The first hour of the final evening of the 2020 Republican Convention had two clear, albeit somewhat contradictory, messages.
On the one hand, a parade of nonwhite speakers vouched for President Donald Trump both as a nonracist individual and also as a policymaker who delivered criminal justice reform. On the other hand, Black Lives Matter protests are responsible for rioting and rising crime all across America and only Trump can save the suburbs from inner city chaos. His election rival Joe Biden, by the same token, was both an avatar of the tough-on-crime excesses of the 1990s and also somehow the leader of a movement to defund the police.
It was clearly a pitch to more moderate voters who might have misgivings about how things are going under Trump. Earlier nights in the convention served up plenty of red meat to the base — from anti-abortion tirades to overt attempts to “own the libs” — but Thursday night was clearly the persuasion game.
The big message was that America as a whole is tumbling into chaos and lawlessness, and the only person who can rescue us is … the guy in charge.
The speech itself was a bit of a letdown. Trump, a master of drawing attention to himself, has never been very skilled at reading prepared text from a teleprompter. And this night was no exception, as he delivered a somewhat stilted speech largely free of the zany riffing that makes his rallies compelling. Nonetheless, given a huge (and illegal) stage, he was very much the center of attention, giving a looooong speech and making clear that he sees himself as the indispensable man for a country in crisis.
That the president of the United States chose to stage his convention speech at the White House as a flagrant violation of the Hatch Act is on some level not important.
But maybe it’s the most important thing of all.
In the earliest days of his political career it was often said Trump wouldn’t really run for president, because if he did he would “have to” release his tax returns and engage in other forms of financial disclosure. As a candidate, even Trump himself claimed to believe he would “have to” divest himself from control over his operating companies. And in the early days of his administration, he would frequently be told that on the small number of policy issues he did care about, there were various legal or constitutional reasons he couldn’t do what he wanted to do.