President Donald Trump speaks earlier Monday at the Republican National...

President Donald Trump speaks earlier Monday at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Credit: Pool / EPA / Jessica Koscielniak

Who's complaining? You know who

President Donald Trump didn't even wait for the completion of the roll call nominating him for a second term to be finished before he showed up at the coronavirus-limited gathering of delegates in Charlotte, North Carolina.

For almost an hour, he was off and rambling. The opening-day speakers at the Republican National Convention on Monday night pursued many of the president's lines of attack on Joe Biden, but Trump's daytime rant largely upstaged them. 

The only way Democrats can win is “if this is a rigged election,” he said, his mantra from the 2016 campaign. 

He accused Democratic governors of using the pandemic as a pretext to keep states — such as North Carolina — in shutdown mode and damage the economy until after Election Day. “On Nov. 4, it will all open up,” the president said. “They want to make our numbers look as bad as possible for the election.”

He touched on the lives lost to the pandemic as an afterthought, telling the crowd that “we will never forget the 175,000 people — that will go up,” and claimed that the death toll would have been in the millions without the travel restrictions he had put into effect. "It is starting to fade,” he said of the virus — not for the first time since last winter.

Trump was airing grievances even before he entered the room, complaining that news networks CNN and MSNBC weren't showing wall-to-wall coverage of the roll call. "Also, I’d like to hear the remarks of the Delegates from individual States, rather than @FoxNews anchors. Ridiculous!" he tweeted. He repeated that gripe to the delegates.

Turning to his Democratic opponents, Trump said, “They want no guns. They want no oil and gas. And they want no God." He repeated his unfounded allegations that President Barack Obama, along with Biden, had spied on his campaign in 2016. “Let’s see what happens. They’re trying it again," he said.

Dark shadows

Donald Trump Jr. in his prerecorded Monday address to the...

Donald Trump Jr. in his prerecorded Monday address to the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington. Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

The Republicans took a stab during Monday's prime-time show at portraying Trump as a leader with empathy, like Biden's convention did for him. To suggest Trump was on top of dealing with the pandemic, a taped segment from the White House had him soaking in praise from a group of frontline workers and telling them, “I’m for the nurses, I’m for the doctors. I’m for everybody."

But the dominant message of the night was to warn a Biden presidency would be a "horror movie." Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida drew a lurid picture. “They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door,” Gaetz said.

Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative group that includes young Trump supporters, hailed Trump as "the bodyguard of Western civilization." Trump was elected, Kirk said, "to protect our families — our loved ones — from the vengeful mob that wishes to destroy our way of life, our neighborhoods, schools, church, and values.”

Donald Trump Jr. said the Democrats' "entire economic platform seems designed to crush the working man and woman.” He called Biden "the Loch Ness monster of the swamp." The president's son was outshouted by his girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle. Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris, according to Guilfoyle, are "socialist swill" who “want to enslave you to the weak, dependent, liberal, victim ideology, to the point that you will not recognize this country or yourself.”

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley charged that Biden represented weakness on U.S. foreign policy — “good for Iran and ISIS” and “great for Communist China.” But the potential 2024 candidate laid between the lines a hint of divergence from Trump's posture on racial issues.

She recalled that when she was governor of South Carolina, after a white supremacist killed nine worshippers at a Black church in Charleston in 2015, people came together "and removed a divisive symbol" from the State House. She didn't name the symbol. It was the Confederate flag, which Trump recently attacked NASCAR for banning.

Not going his way

The Trump campaign's aim to put a happy face on the state of the nation has a tough audience among voters, according to a new Associated Press-NORC poll.

Trump said Monday that if he's not reelected, the country will go in a “horrible direction." But the poll finds that 23% think the country is heading in the right direction, while 75% think it’s on the wrong path. 

Since March, Trump's job approval rating has fallen from 43% to 35%, and 31% of Americans approve of Trump’s leadership on the pandemic, down from 44%.

Janison: Standing only for Trumpism

For the first time in memory, the Republican National Committee has dodged the task of crafting a party platform. The absence of such a statement is in itself a statement in support of Trump’s one-man, philosophy-free, whim-driven control of the party he has taken over, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

The RNC deferred to a series of Trump promises issued by his campaign Sunday night as his "agenda." It touches on jobs, tax cuts, health care, law enforcement and other issues. It sets a goal of eradicating COVID-19 by November 2021. But without even his own political party's consensual input, how does any of it come about? Trump does not build coalitions and does not negotiate policy.

The business of a national political party is now the business of one person. 

Politico's Tim Alberta, who wrote a bestseller, "American Carnage," on the transformation of the Republican Party, writes: "It can now safely be said, as his first term in the White House draws toward closure, that Donald Trump’s party is the very definition of a cult of personality. It stands for no special ideal. It possesses no organizing principle. It represents no detailed vision for governing." A veteran top GOP House aide told Alberta: “Owning the libs and pissing off the media. That’s what we believe in now. There’s really not much more to it.”

Is Eric's fave amendment the Fifth?

Eric Trump is refusing to cooperate with an investigation by New York’s Democratic attorney general, Letitia James, into whether the president and his businesses inflated assets on financial statements, she charged Monday.

Seeking a court order to enforce subpoenas, James said Eric Trump abruptly canceled a scheduled interview with her investigators last month. The Trump Organization has "stalled, withheld documents, and instructed witnesses, including Eric Trump, to refuse to answer questions under oath," James said in a statement.

Eric Trump’s lawyers said, “We cannot allow the requested interview to go forward … pursuant to those rights afforded to every individual under the Constitution.” Given that Eric Trump, unlike his president father, doesn't have broad immunity, the statement opened the possibility that he could invoke the right against self-incrimination.

The investigation centers on whether the Trump Organization and the president improperly inflated the value of assets to secure loans and obtain economic and tax benefits. James' office said it has “not reached a determination” as to whether the company violated any law. The probe arose from allegations by former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.

The Trump Organization derided the court filing as a stunt "all about politics."

Postage D'oh!

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — under fire for service cutbacks that coincide with Trump's attacks on mail-in balloting — got stumped in a House hearing on Monday when quizzed on postal rates.

He got right the basic first-class letter rate — 55 cents — but couldn't answer the questions from Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of California on the costs of a postcard or whether a 55-cent stamp was enough for a greeting card in a square envelope. "I will submit that I know very little about postage stamps," he said. He also didn't know how many people voted by mail in the last election.

Porter's larger point was to question DeJoy's "understanding" of the U.S. Postal Service, which he took over in June. DeJoy defended his managerial decisions. The GOP donor also told the House Oversight Committee that he has warned fellow allies of Trump that the president’s assaults on mail-in voting are “not helpful” and declared, “We can, and will, handle the volume of election mail we receive."

Biden speaks out on Wisconsin shooting

Biden said police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, “must be held accountable” after shooting a Black man in the back in front of his young children on Sunday.

The shooting of Jacob Blake, the latest in a string of police violence against Black Americans captured on video this year, sparked uproar and protests. Blake was reported to be in serious condition in a hospital after officers fired seven shots at close range after he walked away and opened the driver's side door of his SUV, where the children were.

“Equal justice has not been real for Black Americans and so many others. We are at an inflection point. We must dismantle systemic racism. It is the urgent task before us,” the Democratic nominee said.

Trump, who has stood largely with police against racial-justice protesters, was to be briefed on the incident, CNBC reported. There was no immediate comment from the White House.

The convention Monday night heard many speakers — including a St. Louis couple, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who pointed guns at a Black Lives Matter group marching past their home — accuse Democrats of encouraging violence. (They went on to echo Trump's claim that Biden wants to ruin suburbs with low-income housing.)

Only Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone Black Republican in the Senate, explicitly alluded to the protests' spark. "From a global pandemic, to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, 2020 has tested our nation in ways we haven’t seen for decades," he said in a speech that was laudatory overall about Trump.

Sex scandal fells Trump pal Falwell

Jerry Falwell Jr., the evangelical leader whose blessing on Trump's 2016 candidacy helped him seal the deal with religious conservatives, has flamed out spectacularly over a sex scandal.

Falwell told ABC News he resigned Monday night as president of Liberty University. The school's board wanted Falwell out following revelations — partly confessed to by him and partly disputed — over an alleged long-term, three-way sexual affair that involved him, his wife and a former pool attendant at a Miami Beach hotel.

Hours earlier, Reuters reported that Falwell knew of his wife’s affair and participated in some of the liaisons as a voyeur. He said he was not involved in the relationship. Falwell said the younger man, Giancarlo Granda, was blackmailing the couple for money. Granda told Politico in an email that the reasons he came forward included anger over a business dispute with the Falwells about a hostel the three co-owned.

Falwell was placed on paid leave on Aug. 7 after he posted a provocative picture of himself and his wife’s assistant, both partially unzipped, on social media.

Reuters reported last year that months before endorsing Trump, Falwell sought out Trump's then-personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, to intervene with someone who had racy “personal” photographs of the couple. That's according to an account by Cohen that was secretly taped by comedian Tom Arnold. Cohen later helped broker the endorsement, though Reuters said it had no evidence of a connection with the lawyer's previous favor for Falwell.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • More than two dozen former Republican members of Congress, including ex-Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, endorsed Biden on Monday. "We're all old enough to remember when we elected presidents who spoke to our highest ideals and aspirations of a nation, not to our deepest dystopian fears," Flake said. Meanwhile, former RNC chairman Michael Steele joined the Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans working to defeat Trump.
  • A taped segment for the convention Monday night showed Trump receiving the thanks of former prisoners and hostages whose release abroad was won by his administration. It took a turn for the weird when he praised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Andrew Brunson, a pastor who was imprisoned on charges he denied of plotting against Erdogan.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, getting his voice back after surgery for a vocal cord polyp, told Reuters there are risks in rushing out a vaccine before its effectiveness is established. Scientists have expressed concern that Trump will pressure the FDA to deliver a vaccine before November to boost his reelection chances.
  • One legacy of departing Trump aide Kellyanne Conway is her coining of the phrase "alternative facts," and the fact-checkers at PolitiFact updated their score card on her. The near-final numbers on Conway comments they reviewed: 45% false, 45% mostly false, 9% mostly true.
  • When former White House staffer Cliff Sims wrote a tell-some book, "Team of Vipers," about his experiences, Trump denounced him on Twitter last year: “Another boring book based on made up stories and fiction. He pretended to be an insider when in fact he was nothing more than a gofer." Sims accused Trump in a lawsuit of trying to suppress his First Amendment rights. But now Sims is overseeing GOP convention speechwriting. “He has a real talent for communicating the President’s message and vision," a senior White House official told ABC News.
  • Biden's campaign said he and Kamala Harris will be regularly tested for the coronavirus as their in-person campaigning intensifies in the final 10 weeks before Election Day.
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