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Op-Ed: Here’s why, as a Republican, I’m heartened by the convention so far

President Trump on the first night of the Republican National Convention.
(AFP via Getty Images)

Ten minutes versus four years.

Watching the first night of the Republican National Convention had me thinking about Donald Trump’s presidency, a four-year journey by a man who New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman says “spent his career as a salesman concerned about surviving the next ten-minute increment of time in front of him.”

Trump’s tendency to fly by the seat of his pants has left even loyal Republicans exhausted. And it has created a dense political fog, making it hard for Americans to fully comprehend where we are going as a nation.

But after everything that has happened during Trump’s first term, including his administration being unfairly bogged down by a fiercely disloyal opposition, I have been heartened to see Trump and the party focus sharply on the main reason to give the president another four years: that Joe Biden will raise taxes, stand aside for the rioters and open a Pandora’s box of bad, liberal policy.

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I know that may not be a popular view with a lot of Californians, and sure, some of the convention’s speakers have been weird. Kimberly Guilfoyle — yikes. But most made points that no doubt elicited head nods across Middle America. The convention is turning into the opening salvo of a campaign that, in addition to defining Biden, needs to show people where Trump wants to take us.

Four years ago, pundits on the West and East coasts failed to understand how people in the heartland saw things. They are in danger of doing that again. Increasingly, I am convinced what voters want is simple: Make America Normal Again.

The way a lot of Republicans see things, toward the close of his third year, Trump was on the cusp of getting to this frame. And the Democrats knew it, which is why they impeached him.

The American economy was red-hot. We had more jobs than people looking for work! The Democrats were in the middle of a messy primary and Trump, like most incumbent presidents, had all the time, campaign money and clear skies he needed to do what most incumbent presidents do: win.

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But the Democratic plan has always been to keep Trump bogged down in scandal to prevent the idea of his serving as president from becoming normal. The impeachment of Donald Trump wasn’t about Ukraine, it was about interrupting his march to normalization. After impeachment, coronavirus plunged us into a decidedly abnormal period, and Trump, despite making some good moves (especially on speeding up the search for a vaccine), has handled the rhetorical part of the job poorly, playing right into the hands of his opponents.

He does this often, even when Democrats are quite clearly flailing. Take this post office business, for instance. For decades Republicans have tried to rein in out-of-control costs at the U.S. Postal Service and Democrats have resisted. Now that cost-cutting is actually happening, the Democrats have tried to turn it into a conspiracy theory about voter suppression.

Americans would have seen through that nonsense had Trump not indulged it with ill-advised commentary conflating postal reform (a long-standing debate) with his disdain for voting by mail — two separate issues.

If Trump’s superpower is making his opponents act like him (see: Nancy Pelosi calling Republicans “enemies of the state” this week), his kryptonite is never knowing when to shut up.

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But despite it all, Trump’s convention is fighting the narrative that his presidency is so glitchy that America must simply unplug itself on election day and then plug back in to see if we’ve cleared up the problem. In fact, much of the opening-night presentation showed a decidedly normal president keeping his promises and doing things you’d expect him to do, like rescuing people from overseas prisons and passing criminal justice reform.

I’m optimistic the convention will succeed in convincing some voters that the real chaos will come if Democrats win full control in Washington. The principal Democratic message is to elect Joe Biden because he and his wife remind you of the nice neighbors who would gladly water your plants for you, if you were ever allowed to go on vacation again. The Republican plan is to make you wonder who those same neighbors are hiding in the attic, like crazy Uncle Bernie.

The Trump challenge now is to stop lurching from one 10-minute crisis to the next, and to start focusing on a four-year journey that will either take us back to a good economy and a normal life, or to a dark place where Democrats raise your taxes and coddle anti-American anarchists.

We’ll see how the rest of the convention turns out but, for the first time, I’m encouraged that Trump and his team understand what they must do to win. This convention seems … normal. And that is exactly what the president needs to dig out of his rather deep hole.

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Scott Jennings is a longtime Republican advisor, former special assistant to President George W. Bush and CNN political commentator. @ScottJenningsKY


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