Republicans stage a norm-busting convention

Early Returns

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If political parties tell you who they are in their conventions, then the biggest message from Republicans on Tuesday night was that they have little respect for democratic norms. Also: They're largely out of touch with the concerns of Americans who aren't already fans of the Republican show, as seen on Fox News and other party-aligned media.

As far as norms, I'm willing to give President Donald Trump some leeway for using the White House as a backdrop for his appearances, given the pandemic and that he lives and works there. If it had just been (say) First Lady Melania Trump's speech in the Rose Garden and the president's own address from the White House on Thursday, I'd probably defend the idea. But Tuesday night Trump went way too far, staging first a pardon and then a naturalization ceremony. As Susan Hennessey and Scott R. Anderson explained even before those two stunts, Trump's White House is probably violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials (other than the president) from using their offices for partisan political activity. As they say, the administration's response is basically that "rules are for other people." Even if the White House's increasingly implausible justifications somehow satisfied the letter of the law, Trump is thoroughly trampling on the basic principles involved.

And it's not just Trump. Mike Pompeo not only shattered the tradition that secretaries of state avoid speaking at party conventions or otherwise engaging in explicit electioneering, but he took a trip to Jerusalem to emphasize the point. Same message: Rules, and even the law, are for others.

As for the rest of the night? There once again was plenty of stuff recognizable to consumers of conservative media. What the party didn't offer was almost anything about the stuff that most voters presumably have on their minds: the pandemic and ensuing recession. Even those speakers who mentioned the coronavirus generally treated it as something from long ago, and the economic recovery was presented as something already achieved. Perhaps the most obvious version was from White House adviser Larry Kudlow, who put the the whole thing firmly in the past tense. Outside of a couple of paragraphs from Melania Trump's speech, one would hardly know that many businesses are still closed and many more have failed. Or that thousands of Americans are still dying every week. While speaker after speaker mentioned school choice, there was no hint of the parents dealing with shuttered classrooms and day-care centers. Or the fears that parents feel if their children have returned to school.

Of course, there's an obvious reason the party doesn't want to talk about any of that: The president has botched it, and still has no serious plan for recovering. But it's not as if the organizers didn't have time to come up with a better story than the one they have — which is still, months into the crisis, that Trump valiantly stopped the pandemic by banning Chinese travelers, and that he's taken unprecedented steps by simply pushing for a vaccine. That this inflates Trump few achievements while ignoring the long list of things that have gone wrong is bad enough. But the president and his campaign never have reckoned with the fact that U.S. cases and deaths per capita are among the worst in the world and still rising.

Oh, and by the way they had to pull a speaker at the last minute because of her anti-Semitic social-media postings, suggesting once again that haphazard organizing isn't a great idea for national conventions.

1. Molly E. Reynolds on how Congress can fight back against presidents.

2. Charles Stewart III at the Monkey Cage on absentee voting.

3. Jonathan Chait on extremism.

4. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Francis Wilkinson on the Republican "true obsessions: persecution and aggression."

5. William Saletan does some fact-checking on Trump, the Republicans and the pandemic.

6. Ariel Edwards-Levy on polls and predicting elections.

7. And Ed Kilgore on first ladies and conventions. Good item, but he guessed wrong about Melania Trump trying to "humanize her husband." Her speech was pretty good, but she personalized herself while giving us nothing but platitudes about Donald Trump.

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