Donald Trump sparked strong criticism from government ethics experts after deciding to hold this year’s Republican National Convention at the White House. As Joe Biden continues to lead in the polls and the state of the nation struggles to recover from a period of multiple crises, how did the RNC try to convince voters that the incumbent President deserves re-election?
Selling COVID-19 as a success story
Despite the US suffering one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus, surpassing 6 million cases as of August 31st and recording nearly 200,000 deaths, Donald Trump used the RNC to sell the nation’s COVID-19 battle as a victory. Senior Trump figures, including Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, joined the President in offering their condolences to the American citizens who have lost their lives. However, there was little that could be said to dispute the cold, hard figures of the pandemic. Instead, there was a focus on the steps Trump has recently made, such as the newly-announced $750m investment in improved testing. Typically for the Trump administration, there was a lot of hype given to a solution that is yet to come into existence: a miracle American vaccine before the end of the year. Many speakers referred to the COVID-19 pandemic using the past tense – whether viewers at home bought this buoyant account of an ongoing crisis is unclear.
Reaffirming a culture war
Trump has often played on the idea that America is divided between conservatives and a liberal elite. The RNC was no different. Voters were warned against a liberal “cancel culture”, “so-called experts” and an elite class threatening their way of life. Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who were videoed pointing firearms at Black Lives Matter protesters, were given a platform at this year’s RNC to reiterate Trump’s warning that the Democrats do not respect the American way of life and will abolish the suburbs.
“If you stand up for yourself, the mob, spurred on by allies in the media, will try to destroy you,”Patricia McCloskey at the RNC 2020
Fear and grievances have always been Trump’s go-to for rallying support among his base. The RNC was another opportunity for him to present himself as the people’s martyr against a scary liberal elite: “Always remember, they are coming after me, because I am fighting for you.” This predictably belligerent tone promises a bitter autumn campaign that will likely see a similar level of personal attacks against his opponent as in the 2016 election.
To that end, there was no shortage of attacks on the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, who continues to lead Trump in the polls. If attempts to redefine Trump’s image fail, his campaign team can always rely on a more familiar strategy: jibes at the opponent. Indeed, in 2016, critics of Hillary Clinton believe one of her downfalls was failing to recover from some of Trump’s offensives, including the infamous ‘Crooked Hillary‘ slogan that appeared to resonate with voters.
At this year’s RNC, speakers made use of a lack in policy in the Biden-Harris campaign to paint Biden as a ‘far-left’ candidate, despite his history of bipartisanship. Given the convention’s focus on law and order, Trump attempted to paint himself as the President who will keep the people safe (despite months of riots that have continued since the murder of George Floyd). His team were quick to warn viewers against the alternative: “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
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