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5 things to watch for at the Republican National Convention

President Donald Trump pumps his fist after speaking

President Donald Trump pumps his fist after speaking at a campaign stop at North Star Aviation in Mankato, Minn., on Monday. Credit: AP / Jim Mone

WASHINGTON — The Republican National Convention will present a “celebration” of President Donald Trump’s accomplishments and the country itself as a contrast of the Democrats' “gloom and doom” outlook, his campaign spokesman said Saturday.

In his turn on prime-time TV this coming week, Trump will be featured on each of the convention’s four nights that begins Monday, first from Charlotte, North Carolina, and ending Thursday with Trump’s acceptance speech from the White House lawn.

Coming just days after the Democrats put on a multiracial and politically broad program, including Republican as well as moderate and liberal speakers, Republicans said they will paint their opponents as the gloom and doom party run by leftists.

“It’s going to be an optimistic, uplifting positive view of the United States, both on where we are today and where we’re headed in the future,” Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director, told Breitbart Radio Saturday.

But it also will feature speakers on the edge of the cultural divide, such as the white St. Louis lawyers charged with unlawful use of a weapon after pointing a handgun and assault rifle outside their home at Black Lives Matter marchers headed to the mayor’s house.

The overall theme is “Honoring the Great American Story.” Each day has its own topic: The Land of Promise on Monday, the Land of Opportunity on Tuesday, Land of Heroes on Wednesday and Land of Greatness on Thursday. 

It begins at 9 a.m. Monday when 336 Republican delegates, six from each state and territory, vote in person at the Charlotte Convention Center to renominate Trump, a more conventional approach than Democrats took with delegates voting in home state videos. 

Breaking a taboo on using federal landmarks for political events, Pence will give an acceptance speech Wednesday at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, where the War of 1812 battle inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

And Trump will deliver his acceptance speech Thursday evening from the White House lawn, which will be followed by fireworks launched from the Washington Monument. 

Here are five things to watch for over the next four days. 

Will the pandemic be mentioned? 

There is nothing that is more on Americans’ minds than the pandemic and the economic and health safety restrictions imposed to curb it amid Trump’s conflicting, changing and at times inaccurate messages about the novel coronavirus. 

Nearly six out of 10 people disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll last week. 

One of the most stinging criticisms of Trump came during the Democratic convention, when Kristin Urquiza, whose 65-year-old father died from COVID-19, told viewers: “His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump — and for that he paid with his life.”

Last week, Trump called coronavirus the “Chinese plague” and charged that the Obama-Biden administration’s handling of the swine flu was worse than his response to the pandemic. 

But Lawrence Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political science professor, said he expected a different strategy: The GOP will “avoid the topic” and resort to distraction by bringing up burning cities, radical leftists and his Democratic rival Joe Biden as their puppet. 

Will Trump try to broaden his base? 

Biden leads Trump in most national polls, seizing the majority as Trump clings to his base of 40% to 45% of the population. Yet Trump is far ahead of Biden one key category: the enthusiasm of his base.

To lure the small slice of undecided voters, Trump is expected to deploy what Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) called his strongest selling point: the economy — or, at least, the hot economy that existed before the coronavirus led to a shutdown and a deep recession. 

The first list of speakers released so far appears to lack the political and racial diversity that showed up at the Democratic convention. The only Democrat slated so far, according to Politico, is Rep. Vernon Jones of Georgia, according to reports. 

Trump in recent weeks has sought to appeal to white suburban women — a key group sought by both parties — by pointing out that his scrapping of an Obama-era rule will keep low-income housing — and “crime” and “lowered housing values” — out of the suburbs.   

If the convention echoes Trump’s stump speech, its appeal likely will be based on bedrock conservative issues and working class grievances and aimed at the party’s predominantly male and overwhelming white majority. 

Will a law and order pitch succeed? 

The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked protests across the country, reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement, and drew surprising support among whites but also led to some violence and clashes with police in some cities. 

Trump has steadfastly stood with law enforcement and has used it as a talking point against Democrats. Trump supporter Richard Manning, president of the advocacy group Americans for Limited Government, believes that’s going to be a winner in surprising ways.    

“Americans are looking at what's going on in Minneapolis, what's going on in Portland, what's going on in Seattle,” Manning said. “And because the Democrats are embracing that and not condemning it, they are going to own it.” 

Support for protests, acknowledgment of racism and unfavorable views of police increased among whites in surveys in June, according an analysis published last week in FiveThirtyEight by political scientist Michael Tesler at the University of California, Irvine,

But as news media attention to racism and police misconduct has diminished, views among whites on those issues have begun to fade to pre-Floyd protest levels, though they remain higher than before, Tesler wrote. 

Trump’s law-and-order pitch could work, King said, if done right. But if not, it could alienate young, suburban and minority voters. 

Will the GOP be more entertaining? 

Republicans have panned the Democratic convention as too awkward and too boring, even though some parts of the program — notably the on-location state by state voting for Biden — have drawn praise. Viewership of the Democrats’ first night dropped 28% from four years ago. 

“The Republican convention will seek to both entertain and inform. Because, let's face it, it’s a TV show,” Manning said. 

Given the lineup of speakers so far — heavy on the Trump family and regular people, mostly white, with grievances over abortion, gun rights and the killing of police — the nightly fare doesn’t appear to be lighthearted. 

But Trump could be counting on fireworks, still-unrevealed flashy displays and his own reality-TV star grasp of what draws and amuses an audience make the four nights more watchable. 

Will Trump offer a new vision? 

The Republican convention did not write a new platform — it’s sticking with the version it adopted in 2016 — and Trump has sidestepped or not answered questions from reporters about what his vision is for his second term. 

Unlike four years ago, Trump has a record to defend, something he has done repeatedly in his recent trips to important swing states. He talked about China’s orders of corn in Iowa, the building of nearly 300 miles of a border wall in Arizona and jobs in Minnesota. 

But Keep America Great, his reelection slogan, sounds less like an ambitious new program than a defense of his first term. 

“As usual, the only speech remembered longer than a week or two will be Trump’s on the final night,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia professor of politics. “Is it going to be the usual huff and puff? Or will he outline some actual vision for a second term?” 

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