Republican convention: Who is speaking and what to expect

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are joined by their families at the end of the 2016 RNC in Cleveland.
President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are joined by their families at the end of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
(Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images)
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Last week, Democrats made history, putting on the country’s first virtual national convention. This week, Republicans will try to one-up them. As recent weeks have shown, the GOP has taken a completely different approach to planning its event.

The Republican National Convention will have more live events and delegates meeting in person. And GOP officials argue that the Democratic event was bleak — with speakers lambasting Trump’s leadership as the country faces a pandemic, economic meltdown and racial injustices — and that theirs will be more positive.

“The RNC Convention will be four days of lifting up the stories of everyday Americans who have been empowered thanks to President Trump’s policies and record of fighting for them,” Republican National Committee press secretary Mandi Merritt said in a statement. “While the DNC has focused on division and negativity, the RNC will honor what makes our country great and celebrate four more years of historic progress under President Trump.”


But it’s likely that Trump’s own portrayal of the country he leads will continue to be exceedingly dark. He has focused recently on protests and violence in American cities and presented himself as the last defense against an aggressive China and a lonely ally of law enforcement, while offering a foreboding caricature of an America certain to descend into “total anarchy” if Joe Biden is elected.

And unlike the Democratic convention last week, Republicans will be competing for the nation’s attention as two hurricanes are expected to make landfall along the Gulf Coast, one Monday and another just days later.

The overall theme for the convention is “Honoring the Great American Story.” First Lady Melania Trump will speak Tuesday from the White House Rose Garden, whose redesign she recently oversaw; Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday from Ft. McHenry in Baltimore and President Trump on Thursday from the White House. The Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington will also serve as a hub for speeches.

Trump and his aides have long ignored ethics norms, and the president is escalating his use of official events to attack Joe Biden and Democrats.

July 23, 2020

The Republican convention’s main event will start “around” 5:30 Pacific each night and run until 8 p.m., GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniels has said. Viewers can stream the convention on Amazon Prime Video, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Twitch or watch it on TV on AT&T U-Verse or DirecTV.

Here’s what to watch for this week:

An ‘aspirational’ tone?

On the last night of the Democratic convention, Biden said Trump “has cloaked America in darkness.” The former vice president promised: “If you entrust me with the presidency I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I’ll be an ally of the light, not the darkness.”

Republican officials criticized the Democrats’ convention as too negative. “Over the last week, the Democrats held the darkest and angriest and gloomiest convention in American history,” Trump said Friday in a speech at the conservative Council of National Policy in Arlington, Va. “They spent four straight days attacking America as racist, a horrible country that must be redeemed.”


The GOP event will be “more aspirational, less grim, less attacking,” McDaniel said last week on Fox News.

The question is whether Trump can sell himself as a hopeful, positive figure when much of his campaign has been rooted in negative attacks directed at his political opponents, the media, racial justice protesters and his critics.

The president plans to break from convention tradition and speak on all four nights — in the 10 p.m. hour, the only hour carried by all broadcast networks. Following four nights of nationally televised attacks on his presidency last week, Trump “has a lot to say,” according to a person familiar with the convention program.

Win or lose in November, President Trump already has a legacy of domestic deregulation and global disruption. But his botched response to a deadly pandemic and a deep recession overshadow the rest.

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Can Republicans outdo the Democrats?

Trump’s campaign and the RNC have two advantages: going second and being able to learn from the DNC’s programming, and leveraging the trappings of the presidency. Rather than speaking in a cavernous, empty room, Trump will accept the nomination on the South Lawn of the White House, with the columns and Truman Balcony bathed in light, a live audience of some size fanned out before him and a dramatic fireworks display on the National Mall at the end.

There is, however, some concern over the president’s recent directive that the speeches be delivered live, making the production more complicated technically. Trump had seized on the fact that Michelle Obama’s remarks were taped ahead of the convention and is intent on shielding his own convention speakers from whatever criticism could come from doing the same.

The last-minute nature of the planning also led to a slow release of details on the event. By the Friday before their convention, Democrats had announced two hours of programming each night and published a speaking schedule. Republicans did not announce their speaking schedule until Sunday. (Major networks have announced plans to allot one hour of prime-time coverage to the convention, just as they did with the Democratic convention.)


Trump’s acceptance speech, like the rest of the convention, was originally set for Charlotte, N.C., but moved briefly to Jacksonville, Fla., when officials in the Sunshine State were initially more welcoming of a large in-person event. That plan was scrapped as coronavirus cases spiked in Florida; the official business portion of the convention, now in a limited capacity, will remain in Charlotte.

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Who is (and isn’t) scheduled to speak?

Trump’s convention lineup is bulldozing several political norms. Not only are he and the first lady scheduled to speak from the White House, which is not supposed to be used for overtly political events, the inclusion of several administration officials — counselor Kellyanne Conway, senior advisor Ivanka Trump, director of social media Dan Scavino and domestic policy advisor Ja’Ron Smith will all speak — obliterates any pretense of keeping the business of government separate from politics.

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo plans to speak to an RNC audience while on an official mission in Israel, flouting the longstanding tradition for those serving as the nation’s top diplomat of avoiding partisan politics.

The convention will also feature a mix of Republican rising stars and individuals who have either benefited from the president’s policies or can amplify conservative criticisms. As he did four years ago as an outsider, Trump plans to harness grievances against his adversaries.

Nick Sandmann, the former Covington Catholic student who won settlements from two news outlets over their coverage of his 2019 encounter with a Native American protester, will speak about what he sees as anti-conservative media bias.

Mark and Patricia McCloskey, standing in front their house in St. Louis, point guns at protesters marching by in June.
Mark and Patricia McCloskey, standing in front their house in St. Louis, point guns at protesters marching to the mayor’s house in June.
(Laurie Skrivan / Associated Press)

Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who brandished their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters outside their mansion this summer, will give voice to what they feel is an assault by Democrats on the 2nd Amendment and law enforcement.

Republicans also plan to feature others to highlight the benefits of Trump’s main achievements, including tax reform, criminal justice reform, regulatory rollbacks, PPP loans and tougher policies restricting illegal immigration and limiting asylum claims.

The speakers include:

Monday: Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina; Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Jim Jordan of Ohio; former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley; Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend and Trump campaign fundraiser, Kimberly Guilfoyle; Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk; Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, died in a 2018 Florida school shooting; Montana business owner Tanya Weinreis; and the McCloskeys.

Tuesday: First Lady Melania Trump; President Trump’s grown children Eric and Tiffany; Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky; Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds; former Florida Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi; anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson; Pompeo; and Sandmann.

Wednesday: Vice President Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence; Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Texas and Joni Ernst of Iowa; South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem; Reps. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin of New York; former Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell; Trump campaign advisor and daughter-in-law Lara Trump; Michael McHale, president of the National Assn. of Police Organizations; former NFL players Burgess Owens and Jack Brewer; and Conway.

Thursday: President Trump; Housing Secretary Ben Carson; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California; Ivanka Trump; former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani; evangelical leader Franklin Graham; Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White; Alice Johnson, a nonviolent drug offender whose sentence was commuted by Trump; and Carl and Marsha Mueller, whose aid worker daughter Kayla was killed by Islamic State.

Trump’s acceptance speech

Leading up to and throughout the Democratic convention, Trump and his campaign aides attempted to convince voters that Biden was doddering and diminished. But they only succeeded in lowering expectations that Biden easily surpassed with his speech.


Biden’s team has attacked Trump’s record, not his litany of gaffes in recent weeks as he struggled to read prepared remarks from the teleprompter (most notably his pronunciation of Yosemite as “Yo-semites” and Thailand as “Thigh-land), but there is no guarantee that Trump, who plans to appear live on multiple nights, will speak as clearly during his address as Biden did.

There’s also the question of how the president will adapt his outsider message of grievance and ending “American carnage” now that he is the incumbent. One element that may help give credence to his claims that, despite being the president, he remains an anti-establishment figure is the relative scarcity of prominent Republicans scheduled to share the convention stage. Unlike Biden, who had three former presidents make the case for him, Trump will not feature the only living former Republican president, George W. Bush, who has been coy about whether he’ll back the president or his Democratic challenger.

Will the Democratic counterprogramming matter?

The Democratic National Committee and Biden campaign on Friday announced plans for counter-programming to the GOP convention, built around an effort to portray Trump’s tenure as the “Chaos Presidency.”

Win or lose in November, President Trump already has a legacy of domestic deregulation and global disruption. But his botched response to a deadly pandemic and a deep recession overshadow the rest.

Aug. 21, 2020

Each day of the convention, Democrats will air broadcast and digital ads and host video news briefings to spotlight problems with healthcare, the economy and other crises that they say Trump has created or made worse. Speakers will include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind.

The intention is to draw a contrast between Trump and Biden that will be “a preview of the next 75 days,” said Biden campaign advisor Symone Sanders.

The Biden campaign has not, however, announced any post-convention events to spotlight their ticket — a departure from the traditional, pre-COVID strategy of following a convention with a barnstorming tour on the campaign trail. Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, granted ABC their first joint television interview, which aired Sunday.

John reported from Los Angeles and Stokols from Washington. Times staff writer Janet Hook contributed from Washington.