On to Charlotte!
OK, not really. But with the Democrats’ virtual convention behind us, and drawing generally strong reviews, attention is turning to what the Republicans might do with their time in the spotlight, which starts on Monday.
In some ways, having the Democrats go first was good for President Trump’s party. Democrats got to take the virtual car out on a test ride and, presumably, the Republican National Committee got some good ideas for their own convention. And it’s always better to go second and have the last word. On the other hand, the bar has been set fairly high by the Democrats.
Here’s a list of things we’ll be looking for when the Republican convention is gaveled to order:
Will this be an all Trump, all the time convention? Joseph R. Biden Jr. appeared each night from Delaware, doing panels with small groups of people, but he listened more than he spoke, until it was time to give his acceptance speech. Will Mr. Trump be as yielding of the spotlight?
Democrats sketched a rich and sympathetic portrait of their candidate, walking viewers through the formative tragedies of his life. Next week should provide a test of whether that dissuades Mr. Trump from going after Mr. Biden. And if Mr. Biden gets a bit of a pass, will Senator Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, become the lightning rod?
How much attention will be paid to the pandemic? Mr. Trump’s campaign has already dismissed the Democratic convention as grim and gloomy, with its focus on the devastation being wrought by the coronavirus. Will Republicans offer a more optimistic vision of how the nation is managing the virus, or push the issue into a corner?
Will Republicans be as diligent about wearing masks and social distancing as Democrats were through the week? Or will they be deliberately and conspicuously more lax, making a political statement as well as a health one?
Will Mr. Trump use this platform to lay out a second-term agenda? Democrats are betting he will not. “He’s not going to change,” said Rahm Emanuel, who was White House chief of staff when Mr. Biden was vice president. “He’s not going to offer an inclusionary, second-term agenda.”
Will Mr. Trump (and, for that matter, Vice President Mike Pence) allow this convention to promote the next generation of potential presidential candidates? And will we see as many non-politicians — a.k.a. regular Americans — in prime spots as we saw at the Democratic convention?
Will there be a lineup of Hollywood stars to give the convention more celebrity power? Will the Republicans have the kind of musical production numbers to counter the Democrats, who offered performances by, among others, John Legend and Jennifer Hudson? (Ronna McDaniel, the R.N.C. chairwoman, told us this week that the convention would shun Hollywood celebrities in favor of “real people.”)
The speaking roster at the Democratic convention had a heavy representation every night of people of color and women. Will this be a priority for Republicans as well?
Democrats put the virtual campaign to good use, turning to imaginative and highly produced videos to showcase voters and party leaders, and for such convention fixtures as the keynote and the roll call. Will Republican convention planners do the same, or stick with the old script?
The House interrupted its annual summer recess on Saturday for a rare weekend session to approve legislation blocking cost-cutting and operational changes at the Postal Service — moves that Democrats, civil rights advocates and some Republicans fear could jeopardize mail-in voting this fall.
The measure, put forward by Democratic leaders, also would require the Postal Service to prioritize the delivery of all election-related mail. It would grant the beleaguered agency a rare $25 billion infusion to cover revenue lost because of the coronavirus pandemic and to ensure it has the resources to address what is expected to be the largest vote-by-mail operation in the nation’s history.
Democrats were joined by 26 Republicans in voting yes, passing the legislation 257 to 150, with more than 20 Republicans not voting. But the bill, as written, appeared unlikely to move through the Republican-controlled Senate. President Trump opposed the measure in last-minute tweets, calling it a “money wasting HOAX” by Democrats.
Democrats pressed ahead anyway, however, framing Saturday’s action as an emergency intervention to protect vital mail and package services that have seen significant delays this summer as the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, moved swiftly to cut costs to close a yawning budget gap. They said it was necessary to instill confidence in American voters that the agency would safeguard their ballots despite often baseless near daily attacks by President Trump on mail-in voting, criticisms that have raised concerns about the politicization of a trusted institution.
Separately on Saturday, The New York Times reported that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin played a key role in paving the way for Mr. DeJoy to be hired and in pushing for the cost-cutting measures he has pursued.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the lead author of the bill, said, as she released Postal Service statistics documenting the slowdown in delivery since early July. “It makes absolutely no sense to impose these kinds of dangerous cuts in the middle of a pandemic and just months before the elections in November.”
Most Republicans in the House were expected to oppose it after Mr. DeJoy, facing intense backlash and with the House vote looming, announced this week that he would temporarily halt operational changes at the post office until after Nov. 3.
He is scheduled to testify again on Monday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
The Republican convention that is unfolding as delegates gather in Charlotte this weekend is nothing like anyone envisioned more than two years ago, when the city was selected to host a raucous gathering to renominate President Trump. There were going to be parties and after-parties, and the city expected $200 million of economic impact.
But despite the pandemic’s upending carefully laid plans of both parties, there is, against all odds, still a convention in town. It is modest, and contained to a coronavirus-tested bubble inside the Westin hotel and the Charlotte Convention Center down the street. It is not what Americans will see next week, when the Republicans stage a prime-time program on television. Mr. Trump will deliver his renomination speech from the White House.
But keeping in place at least a piece of an in-person convention, in the original host city, has been a priority for the Republican National Committee, both symbolically and procedurally. An in-person roll call on Monday, which will formally renominate Mr. Trump from inside the convention center, was seen as a statement of where the party stands on lockdowns. The president and Vice President Mike Pence are expected to attend.
Even the scaled-back event has been tricky to pull off. The delegates participating were required to take at-home tests before arriving, and they were to be tested daily once they were in town. They are required to wear masks at all times, even outdoors. The R.N.C. has spent half a million dollars on tests and safety measures, according to officials, and has drafted a 42-page health plan, but it still had to get an exemption from the state to host a large indoor gathering of out-of-towners.
Protesters in Tennessee who illegally camp on state property could lose the right to vote under a law signed by the state’s Republican governor on Thursday after weeks of demonstrations against police brutality outside the state capitol.
The law, signed with little notice by the governor, Bill Lee, increased the penalty for illegal camping on state property from a misdemeanor to a felony. In Tennessee, felony convictions result in the loss of voting rights.
The law also toughened a range of other criminal penalties, including those for vandalism against government property, blocking a highway and participation in a riot.
The American Civil Liberties Union said such offenses have often been used as a pretext to crack down on civil disobedience and arrest peaceful protesters like those who have gathered for weeks outside the Tennessee state capitol after the killing in May of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
“Dissent is patriotic, not criminal,” the A.C.L.U. said on Saturday. “We will be closely monitoring the enforcement of this law, which undermines our freedom of speech and is a national embarrassment.”
Mr. Lee defended the law by pointing to acts of destruction at some protests, including a fire that federal prosecutors said had been intentionally set in front of Nashville City Hall, also known as the Metro Courthouse, during a protest in May.
“We saw lawlessness that needed to be addressed immediately,” Mr. Lee said on Thursday, according to The Tennessean.
After a virtual Democratic convention that didn’t showcase the party’s diversity so much as simply present it as a matter of fact, the Trump campaign responded on Saturday with the creation of 13 new coalitions to make the point that, as the campaign put it, “President Trump Delivers Success for All Americans, Regardless of Background.”
The new affinity groups included what appeared to be an L.G.B.T.Q. coalition, “Trump Pride,” as well as groups for truckers, gun owners, firefighters, and Albanian and Ukrainian Americans.
Also on the list: Assyrians for Trump, Chaldeans for Trump, German Americans for Trump, Italian Americans for Trump, Medical Professionals for Trump, Polish Americans for Trump and Serbian Americans for Trump.
“They will unite a diverse array of Americans around President Trump’s re-election campaign and the fight against Joe Biden’s socialist agenda,” Ashley Hayek, the campaign’s director of coalitions, said in a statement. “All across America, diverse groups are coming together to support President Trump and his promise of economic empowerment, personal liberty, and the American dream.”
The Trump White House has few people of color in positions of authority, or even in lower staff jobs. His campaign has launched outreach efforts to attract minority groups, but has thus far failed to make significant inroads with those voters.
A national political convention gives presidential candidates their first major opportunity of the campaign to connect with a national audience, reaching viewers by the millions and kicking off the race’s climactic final leg.
Until recently, it also usually meant the candidate would get a bump in the polls — like a guaranteed $200 for passing “Go” — though bravura performances tended to add a few extra points to the so-called convention bounce.
The average convention bounce has been on the wane in recent years — and with the coronavirus limiting the proceedings, this could be the year when the bounce disappears completely.
Of course, we probably won’t have enough polling results until next week to measure the effects of the Democratic National Convention, and we’ll have to wait longer to determine the impact of the Republican convention, which begins Monday. And, historically, convention bounces have mostly tended to wash out anyway: Both parties are about evenly likely to get a bump, and voters’ preferences tend to revert within a few weeks, or to be swayed in a fresh direction by newer developments.
Still, the fact that the campaign bounce itself is on the wane carries implications about the state of play in politics more generally.
American politics have grown more deeply partisan over the past few decades, so there’s far less fluctuation in pre-election polling. Put simply, persuadable voters are in short supply.
Forget pearls, go for the hoops.
Ditch the double-breasted blazer, grab a leather jacket.
And you can never go wrong with a bold lip.
As women of color ascend in politics across the country, they are expanding the definition of what it means to look like a politician. And from Congress to state legislatures to races for local offices, women in their 20s and 30s are entering politics equally comfortable talking policy as they are their preferred shade of lipstick. Women in their 40s and 50s say they are freer to express their personal style.
“I think women in politics should present themselves as they see themselves, and not necessarily how they think they should be seen,” said Yvanna Cancela, a Nevada state senator who lives in Las Vegas. “I try to be intentional while also walking the line of not reinforcing stereotypes. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t do it, but I wear my hoops about 90 percent of the time.”
For years, discussing female politicians’ wardrobes has been taboo, as if avoiding all talk about appearance would mean that women would be taken seriously in a male-dominated environment. (Less than 25 percent of members of Congress are women, but it’s still a record high.)
Of course, male politicians have their own sartorial dilemmas. But viewing clothing as a form of self-expression has not, traditionally, been an explicit aspect of electoral politics, said Rhonda Garelick, a fashion historian.
Now, she sees women engaging in, and succeeding at, what she calls “pink politics” — reclaiming what has long been considered trivial, or a liability.
Whether you liked the content of Joseph R. Biden’s Jr.’s acceptance speech Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention or found yourself unmoved by his message, one thing was clear: He outperformed the low expectations set in part by the Trump campaign.
It’s not the first time the Trump campaign has botched the expectations game, and outside advisers have tried to warn the president that he needs to raise expectations of his opponents, rather than lower them, while lowering expectations for himself.
But that hasn’t stopped the president from bragging to people that he expects a matchup against Mr. Biden on the debate stage to be a bruising experience for his opponent.
Mr. Trump was eager to run as an underdog four years ago, but this time the campaign has sought to project an image of dominance, in ways that are not always helpful.
In Tulsa, Okla., Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, violated a cardinal rule of politics: Underestimate crowd size and enthusiasm in order to over-deliver. Instead, he made the president look foolish when only 6,300 people showed up for an event he claimed had drawn 1 million ticket requests.
Instead of talking up how Mr. Biden could be a formidable opponent on the debate stage, Mr. Trump and his campaign advisers have mostly done the opposite. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, claimed recently that there was “an active push to get Joe Biden to not debate my father” because of concerns that he was not capable of handling the matchup.
Jason Miller, a campaign strategist, has tried to shift how the campaign is framing Mr. Biden and the debates. “Joe Biden is actually a very good debater,” he told The Washington Post. But after all that came before it, the lone comment from one operative did little to really raise the bar.
George H.W. Bush was in trouble. It was July 1988 and Michael Dukakis, the Democratic candidate for president, was on a roll after his party’s convention in Atlanta. A Gallup poll showed Mr. Bush trailing by 17 points.
But he had a road map to victory.
One month earlier, Mr. Bush’s top aides had gathered to review a thick binder of polling and focus group data, finding that Mr. Dukakis’s record was not well-known and that some of his liberal positions, in particular supporting prison furloughs and opposing the death penalty, could swamp him in a general election.
The Bush campaign proceeded, as Lee Atwater, the campaign manager, put it, “to strip the bark off the little bastard,” beginning in force with Mr. Bush’s hammer of a speech at the Republican National Convention.
Mr. Bush not only overcame Mr. Dukakis’ summer polling advantage, but defeated him handily: by a margin of 53 percent to 46 percent.
In many ways, the Bush campaign of 1988 marked the birth of the modern-day negative campaign. Most memorably, Republicans plastered Mr. Dukakis, then the governor of Massachusetts, with the case of Willie Horton, an African-American man who raped a white Maryland woman and stabbed her boyfriend while on a Massachusetts prison furlough program.
As President Trump faces similarly daunting poll deficits in his contest with Joseph R. Biden Jr., he is increasingly running one of the harshest campaigns since 1988, and Republicans preparing for their convention next week are looking back at that race as a beacon of hope in a bleak political landscape.
Mr. Trump and his political and media allies have torn into Mr. Biden and particularly his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, using racist and sexist attacks. There is a direct line between the hard-edge campaign Mr. Bush ran portraying Mr. Dukakis as a far-left liberal — and the racial undertones personified by seizing on Mr. Horton — and the Trump campaign that is emerging today.
“The problem for Trump is he has yet to find his Willie Horton, as it were,” said Susan Estrich, who was Mr. Dukakis’s campaign manager. “But he’s looking.”