5 takeaways from the first night of the RNC

Donald Trump Jr. walks onto stage
Donald Trump Jr. during his pre-recording address to the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press )

Welcome to a parallel universe.

Conventions are unabashedly partisan affairs, offering the purest distillation of a political party and its beliefs. So a certain amount of contrast is to be expected when Democrats and Republicans stage their coronations back-to-back.

But the differences on display Monday at the opening night of the GOP convention weren’t just jarring. They could practically knock your fillings out.

The COVID-19 pandemic that has scythed a deathly swath across America was not the scourge Democrats suggested, but rather a malady — “the China virus” — that Republicans depicted as well in hand. (Notably absent was much sympathy for the families of nearly 180,000 Americans who have died.)


The economy that cratered to depression levels of unemployment was not only snapping smartly back, speakers suggested, but stands poised to hit stratospheric new heights very soon.

Never mind offering divergent solutions. Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree on the problems the country faces.

Here are five takeaways from day one of the Republican National Convention.

Paint it black

President Trump and fellow Republicans promised a week of uplift and celebration, striking a contrast with a Democratic gathering that Trump derided as the darkest and gloomiest in history.

At times, though, it was hard to see any light for all the pitch-dark foreboding.


Speaker after speaker decried a country whose cities have spiraled into mayhem, where children are indoctrinated in hateful propaganda, where the religiously faithful are under siege.

Trump, accepting the nomination in a surprise appearance, cast his reelection as the only thing standing in the way of anarchy and irreversible decline. If Democrat Joe Biden is elected, he bluntly declared, “Your American dream will be dead.”

Feeling better?

Trump! Trump! Trump!

If a little Trump is good, the president seems to believe, a lot of Trump is a tremendously beautiful thing.

Typically, the nominee-in-waiting, or a president up for reelection, lies lows for most of the week. It’s a quaint tradition, akin to the olden days when a bride on her wedding day was kept from sight until the Big Moment — in this case, the acceptance speech that culminates the convention.

Last week, Biden broke somewhat with protocol. He appeared onscreen to briefly celebrate his formal nomination and popped up in a series of taped round-table policy discussions before speaking live at Thursday night’s finale.

Trump, in keeping with the ubiquity of his presidency, planned to be a presence on each of the convention’s four days.

He began Monday with a drop-by in Charlotte, N.C., where delegates were gathered to formally install him as the GOP nominee. He thanked them in remarks lasting more than an hour (more than double the time of Biden’s acceptance speech).

Trump then repeatedly popped back up in prime time in a series of videos extolling his performance and celebrating his achievements with the recurring theme “promises made, promises kept.”

His omnipresence was another pledge made and kept.

Trump the troll

Never mind tax cuts, rolled-back regulations or the appointment of conservative judges.

One of Trump’s greatest appeals to his base is his capacity to reduce opponents to a quivering, sputtering mass of agitated outrage. It’s called owning the libs, and the president is a master at wielding lock and key.

Accepting the nomination, as a somewhat distanced, partially masked ballroom of delegates took up the requisite chant of “four more years,” a beaming Trump stepped to the microphone and slyly offered a suggestion. “If you want to really drive ’em crazy,” he offered, “you say ‘12 more years.’”

The crowd took up the cry, in defiance of the constitutional two-term limit, as the heads of Democrats around the country spontaneously combusted.

Trump, redux

With five offspring, there has been talk of Trumps running for president in perpetuity. Picture the Bushes or Clintons, with a lot more marble and gold filigree.

All of Trump’s children, save his youngest son — 14-year-old Barron — have been slotted as convention speakers, a lineup that does nothing to lay such speculation to rest.

The star billing went Monday night to Donald Trump Jr., who made one of the fundamental arguments for his father’s reelection.

The 42-year-old Trump said things were going swimmingly until the novel coronavirus, a spawn of “the Chinese Communist Party,” blindsided the country and kicked the legs out from under the strong economy the president helped build. Having done so once, Trump Jr. said, his father stands uniquely suited to invigorate the economy again.

The “radical left-wing policies” of Biden — “Beijing Biden” — would stop things cold, Trump asserted. “If you’re looking for hope, look to the man who did what the failed Obama-Biden Administration never could do and built the greatest economy our country has ever seen.”

That statement is an exaggeration — there have been other periods of greater prosperity in the country’s history — but that has not stopped father or son or the many others who repeated it Monday night.

A more conventional roll call

The tally of states, which formally bestows the presidential nomination on a party’s pick, is one of those traditions that marked another line of demarcation between Democrat and Republican.

Taking social distancing to the extreme, Democrats conducted their roll call via remote feeds from the 50 states, District of Columbia and territories across the waters of the Pacific and Caribbean. It was a colorful, sometimes goofy but earnest and unexpectedly uplifting survey of this great land, its varied people, topography and, in the case of Rhode Island, official state appetizer. (Calamari!)

Republicans took a more familiar approach.

Held before prime time, representatives of each state and territory appeared before a white convention backdrop with the convention logo, pledging their allotted delegates as those on hand offered a smattering of applause.

There was the usual good-natured braggadocio, about Arizona’s Grand Canyon, the rivers of Missouri, the patriotism of Puerto Rico’s veterans and the like. But the roll call also offered a preview of the week’s political messaging, with delegates extolling the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, opposition to legalized abortion, and support for police and those who stand during the national anthem.

Later, in prime time, Republicans emulated — OK, copied — the Democrats with their own swift pass through the 50 states and territories.

There was a lot of cheerleading for Trump but no calamari.

A look at where President Trump and Joe Biden stand on key issues in the 2020 election, including healthcare, immigration, police reform and climate.

Sept. 14, 2020