If you’re looking for the biggest difference between then-candidate Donald Trump’s RNC acceptance speech four years ago and President Donald Trump’s RNC acceptance speech last week, it helps to think like he does and channel your inner real estate developer.
It’s all about location, location, location.
In 2016, Trump delivered a darkly tedious and overlong speech from the frigidly air-conditioned Quicken Loans Center in Cleveland. At least it had the virtue of being on private property.
In 2020, he delivered a darkly tedious and overlong speech from the White House’s South Lawn, blasting through the traditional and legal prohibitions against using federal property and resources for electioneering.
In 2016, Trump insisted that he alone could solve the nation’s problems, warning that “the attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.”
In Washington on Thursday, as mostly mask-less supporters sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the August night, Trump complained that Democratic nominee “Joe Biden and his supporters remained completely silent about the rioters and criminals spreading mayhem in Democrat-run cities. They never even mentioned it during their entire convention. Never once mentioned.”
Even as Trump blasted what he said was “left-wing anarchy and mayhem in Minneapolis, Chicago and other cities,” he also honored police officers — a recurring theme of convention week. But he remained utterly silent on the reason those same demonstrators were taking to the streets: To protest the killings of unarmed Black civilians at the hands of law enforcement and the decades of institutionalized racism that has resulted in a legal system weighted against people of color.
In 2016, Trump boasted that “at our convention, there will be no lies,” which was a fantasy at the time.
In 2020, the Republican president and his supporters spent the week mangling and distorting the facts at dizzying speed.
Some of the whoppers, too numerous to quantify, included Vice President Mike Pence punching up the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, while ignoring the inconvenient truth that the White House spent weeks downplaying its significance while failing to come through on testing and personal protective equipment, according to The Guardian. Pence, by the way, headed up the White House’s coronavirus response.
Elsewhere, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany (who also began her West Wing tenure pledging that she would never lie to the media) laughably claimed that Trump “stands by Americans with pre-existing conditions.” In fact, Trump and his Republican allies are in court fighting to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which provides legal protection for 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions.
And if you needed a reminder that the Grand Old Party, which left its convention week without an actual platform, is now really the Party of Trump, you didn’t need to look any further than U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Four years ago, in a joint appearance with then-U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, McConnell took to the stage looking like he was starring in a hostage video while undergoing a root canal, as I wrote at the time from Cleveland. McConnell’s antipathy to Trump at the time was well-documented.
But with control of the Senate on the line this year, McConnell, in recorded remarks, spoke of “my friend, Donald Trump,” even as he inveighed against Democrats and cynically warned that granting statehood to Washington D.C. would result “in two more liberal senators,” making it impossible for Republicans to “undo the damage they’ve [Democrats] have done.”
The Senate Republican resistance to D.C. statehood has always been rooted as much in fear of a dilution of political power as it has been in a racism that has trained them to view the overwhelmingly Black city as little more than a personal plaything. I covered Congress in 1997, during another push for D.C. statehood, and saw the same scenario unfold at the time.
Even the language that McConnell used Thursday was couched in racism. Democrats, he complained, wanted to cement their agenda by “making the swamp itself, Washington, D.C., America’s 51st state,” according to Politico, as he simultaneously scored a cheap political point by smearing the more than 705,000 people, 47 percent of whom are Black, who call Washington D.C. home. But it wasn’t a message for “Chocolate City,” as the increasingly diverse D.C. was once called. It was a scare-tactic and dog whistle for middle America.
But McConnell, like other Republicans who flushed the GOP’s legacy this week, was simply following the lead of their Dear Leader. In Cleveland four years ago, Trump trafficked in racism and fear, warning of “illegal immigrants with criminal records” who were “roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”
In Washington on Thursday night, Trump bleated that if “the left gains power they will demolish the suburbs, confiscate your guns and appoint justices who will wipe away your Second Amendment and other constitutional freedoms.”
Four years ago, and on Thursday, Republicans claimed they had a bold, new vision for America. They don’t. They’re members of a party bereft of ideas that can only do one thing: Peddle division and fear.
It’s right there. In their own words.