2020 Election

The Mirror-Image Convention

Maximo Alvarez
Maximo Alvarez addresses the RNC / Getty Images

The first night of the 2020 Republican National Convention was a mirror image of last week's Democratic telethon. The issues that the Democrats ignored—violence in the cities and China—were mentioned again and again. Where the Democrats showcased elected officials and celebrities, some of the most effective speeches on night one of the RNC came from lesser-known individuals such as activist Andrew Pollack, Cuban immigrant Maximo Alvarez, and nurse Amy Ford. The phrase "systemic racism" wasn't heard. But paeans to American greatness and American exceptionalism limned each address.

Last week, President Obama said that democracy was on the line in this election. The speakers at the RNC agreed—but for reasons that were the direct opposite of Obama's. The Democrats spent a good deal of time reminding viewers that Joe Biden is an empathetic and decent man. The Republican convention focused on its nominee, too. But the stories were about Donald Trump's accomplishments and leadership more than his personality and character.

The reporters in my Twitter feed were polite and friendly critics of the DNC. But many of these same reporters commented on the RNC with condescension, hostility, and sneers. I guess that was to be expected. But it was still jarring (and annoying).

The two conventions did share a few elements. They both had panel discussions featuring the nominee as moderator. But even these segments involved a trip through the looking glass. Joe Biden talked with people over Zoom. President Trump greeted first responders and rescued hostages in person, and without masks. The difference in the candidates' approach to these brief exchanges symbolized far larger disagreements over how to deal with the coronavirus and the direction of the country. Both conventions were also retrospective. The Republicans talked a lot about Trump's economic record prior to the virus. The Democrats zeroed in on the last five months.

The Democrats have big plans, but they don't want to talk about them all that much. Republicans, for their part, are running a prevent defense. The goal is to deny the Democrats opportunities for radical change. That's because Republicans like what they see in the mirror. The question is how many Americans agree.