If you’re looking for the biggest difference between Donald Trump’s acceptance speeches in 2016 and last week, it helps to channel your inner real estate developer.
It’s all about location, location, location.
In 2016, Trump delivered a darkly tedious and overlong speech from the frigidly air-conditioned Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. At least it had the virtue of being on private property.
In 2020, he delivered a darkly tedious and overlong speech from the White House’s South Lawn, blasting through the traditional and legal prohibitions against using federal property and resources for electioneering.
In 2016, Trump insisted that he alone could solve the nation’s problems, warning that “the attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.”
In Washington last week, Trump complained that Democratic nominee “Joe Biden and his supporters remained completely silent about the rioters and criminals spreading mayhem in Democrat-run cities. They never even mentioned it during their entire convention. Never once mentioned.”
Even as Trump blasted what he said was “left-wing anarchy and mayhem in Minneapolis, Chicago and other cities,” he also honored police officers - a recurring theme of convention week. But he remained utterly silent on the reason those same demonstrators were taking to the streets: To protest the killings of unarmed Black civilians at the hands of law enforcement, and the decades of institutionalized racism that has resulted in a legal system weighted against people of color.
Elsewhere, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany laughably claimed that Trump “stands by Americans with pre-existing conditions.” In fact, Trump and his Republican allies are in court fighting to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which provides legal protection for 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, the Guardian also noted.
And if you needed a reminder that the Grand Old Party, which left its convention week without an actual platform, is now really the Party of Trump, you didn’t need to look any further than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Four years ago, in a joint appearance with then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, McConnell took to the stage looking like he was starring in a hostage video while undergoing a root canal. McConnell’s antipathy to Trump at the time was well-documented.
But with control of the Senate on the line this year, McConnell, in recorded remarks, spoke of “my friend, Donald Trump,” even as he inveighed against Democrats and cynically warned that granting statehood to Washington D.C. would result “in two more liberal senators,” making it impossible for Republicans to “undo the damage they’ve [Democrats] have done.”
In a July analysis for Inside Elections, Jacob Rubashkin blew up that narrative, noting that “history reveals that two additional Democratic senators would rarely have made a difference in control of the Senate over the last half century.”
The Senate Republican resistance to D.C. statehood has always been rooted as much in fear of a dilution of political power as it has been in a racism that has trained them to view the overwhelmingly Black city as little more than a personal plaything. I covered Congress in 1997, during another push for D.C. statehood, and saw the same scenario unfold at the time.
Even the language that McConnell used Thursday was couched in racism. Democrats, he complained, wanted to cement their agenda by “making the swamp itself, Washington, D.C., America’s 51st state.” But it wasn’t a message for “Chocolate City,” as the increasingly diverse D.C. was once called. It was a scare-tactic and dog whistle for middle America.
McConnell, like other Republicans who flushed the GOP’s legacy this week, was simply following the lead of their Dear Leader. In Cleveland four years ago, Trump trafficked in racism and fear, warning of “illegal immigrants with criminal records” who were “roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”
In Washington last week, Trump bleated that if “the left gains power they will demolish the suburbs, confiscate your guns and appoint justices who will wipe away your Second Amendment and other constitutional freedoms.”
During both conventions, Republicans claimed they had a bold, new vision for America. They don’t. They’re members of a party bereft of ideas that can only do one thing: Peddle division and fear.
It’s right there. In their own words.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.