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Republican officials said last week that their convention would be more upbeat than the Democrats’, packed with hopeful and uplifting stories.
While it did not start out that way — “They want to enslave you to the weak, dependent, liberal, victim ideology,” warned Kimberly Guilfoyle, loudly, on Monday — Tuesday’s theme of “Land of Opportunity” featured glossy, pre-produced video packages and earnest speeches from small-business owners and other supporters of President Trump without a national profile.
But the “hope” messaging extended to a wishful portrayal of a country that was either over the coronavirus pandemic or at least not upended by it. Many of the Night 2 speakers chose to ignore the virus, paying it no mention. Others referred to it in the past tense, occasionally diverting from their prepared remarks to avoid it.
“Then came a once-in-100-year pandemic,” said Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser. “It was awful. Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere.” But his prepared remarks, sent to reporters before his speech, had the line, “We still have a lot of hardship, and we have a lot of heartbreak.”
The disregard for the virus wasn’t just in the speeches. In numerous interactions, officials were shown not wearing masks. The largely maskless crowd of about 100 people who watched Melania Trump’s Rose Garden address were seated in chairs that were not socially distanced, and the attendees had not all been required to be tested, CNN reported.
It was not until Mrs. Trump’s speech, which closed the night, that the virus was given any kind of significant weight as a national crisis. Her remarks were a startling break with the administration’s desire to downplay the severity of the pandemic and its unwillingness to engage in any kind of public mourning for the nearly 180,000 people who have died in the United States.
“My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one, and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering,” she said. “I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone.”
Aside from Mrs. Trump’s remarks, the ignoring of the pandemic on Tuesday followed a night when many convention speakers simply sought to rewrite the history of the Trump administration’s response. Both are a clear indication that in an election likely to take place while the coronavirus is still infecting thousands of Americans each day, the Trump campaign has yet to figure out how best to address the pandemic politically.
Though Republicans criticized the tone of the Democratic convention as “dark,” a more apt term for the D.N.C. would have been “dire.” The country, as the Democrats saw it, was engaged in an existential war for democracy amid a series of national crises.
On their first night, Republicans pitched a different kind of existential war, one in which an undefined “American way of life” was on the verge of extinction. A similar sensibility remained on full display on Tuesday.
“To those of you who want to stand up and fight the socialists poisoning our schools and burning our cities, join me in supporting President Trump,” Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said.
“This misinformation system keeps people mentally enslaved to the ideas they deem correct,” Tiffany Trump, the president’s daughter, said.
These existential pronouncements contrasted with speeches from some of the lesser-known backers of Mr. Trump, who spoke earnestly of their support for the president.
“More than any president in my lifetime, he has acknowledged the importance of farmers and agriculture,” said Cris Peterson, a dairy farmer from Wisconsin.
Vice President Mike Pence hosted a video featuring Trump supporters attributing their ability to overcome adversity to the president’s policies.
But in their desire to portray an empathetic side of a president better known for caustic Twitter tirades, convention organizers appropriated two official functions of government — a presidential pardon and a naturalization ceremony — and broadcast the videos as part of the program.
It was yet another break from decades of White House tradition and ethical norms separating the levers of government from the politics of campaigning.
The president offered remarks during both ceremonies.
“Jon’s life is a beautiful testament to the power of redemption,” Mr. Trump said after pardoning Jon Ponder, a convicted bank robber who went on to found the nonprofit Hope for Prisoners. Mr. Ponder and Richard Beasley, the former federal agent who arrested Mr. Ponder but has since become his friend, stood next to the president.
Mr. Trump then invited them both to “say a few words,” and the ceremony delivered a convention-ready pitch for Mr. Trump.
“I am grateful for President Trump’s commitment to criminal justice reform,” Mr. Beasley said. “On Feb. 20 of this year, he was the guest speaker at the Hope for Prisoners graduation. He stayed much longer than scheduled to hand out diplomas to the 29 men and women who graduated that day. What a sight.”
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More convention coverage
From our recap article on the front page of the newspaper: “It was not clear whether this new appeal would change the minds of women, people of color and others who had formed negative opinions of Mr. Trump over the past five years. …”
Our news analysis, by Lisa Lerer and Sydney Ember: “The Republicans want white suburban voters to believe that the president is on their side — and that he’s on the side of immigrants and women, too.”
A team of New York Times reporters fact-checked the Night 2 speakers, providing context and explanation.
Mr. Trump presided over a naturalization ceremony at the White House, but his administration has waged a yearslong assault on the nation’s immigration system.
In contrast to Melania Trump’s disastrous convention speech four years ago, “every word” of her Tuesday night address, her chief of staff said, “is from her.”
The #Guilfoylechallenge, a cathartic scream in trying times.
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