GOP convention: Optimism, diversity, and warnings of socialism

Washington and New York

A rising generation of Republican stars offered an optimistic and empathetic view of President Donald Trump’s leadership. But other speakers on the opening night of the GOP’s scaled-back convention issued dark warnings about the country’s future and distorted the president’s record, particularly on the coronavirus pandemic.

As Mr. Trump faces pressure to expand his appeal beyond his loyal supporters, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s sole Black Republican, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, sought to cast the GOP as welcoming to Americans of color, despite the party’s overwhelmingly white leadership and voting base.

“I was a brown girl in a Black and white world,” Ms. Haley said Monday night, noting that she faced discrimination but rejecting the idea that “America is a racist country.” She also gave a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement, saying “of course we know that every single Black life is valuable.”

But the prime-time convention proceedings, which featured a blend of taped and live speeches, focused largely on dire talk about Joe Biden, Mr. Trump’s Democratic challenger in the November election. Speakers ominously warned that electing Mr. Biden would lead to violence in American cities spilling into the suburbs, a frequent Trump campaign message with racist undertones. One speaker called Mr. Trump the “bodyguard of Western civilization.”

Seeking to find a message that sticks, Mr. Trump’s team tried out multiple themes and tactics over the course of the night. They featured optimism from those who could represent the GOP’s future, attempts to characterize Mr. Biden as a vessel for socialists and far-left Democrats despite his moderate record, and humanizing stories about the man who sits in the Oval Office.

Mr. Trump and a parade of fellow Republicans misrepresented Mr. Biden’s agenda through the evening, falsely accusing him of proposing to defund police, ban oil fracking, take over health care, open borders, and raise taxes on most Americans. They tried to assign positions of the Democratic left to a middle-of-the-road candidate who explicitly rejected many of the party’s most liberal positions through the primaries.

The first night of the four-day convention reflected the rising urgency fueling Mr. Trump’s push to reshape a presidential contest that polls show him trailing, at least for now, with Election Day just 10 weeks away. It will continue Tuesday, when first lady Melania Trump will deliver remarks from the White House.

Mr. Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are keeping a relatively low profile this week. In a tweet Monday night, Mr. Biden told supporters to “stay focused.”

The emphasis on diversity at Mr. Trump’s convention was an acknowledgement he must expand his coalition beyond his largely white base. Polling shows that Black Americans continue to be overwhelmingly negative in their assessments of the president’s performance, with his approval hovering around 1 in 10 over the course of his presidency, according to Gallup polling.

One of several African Americans on Monday night’s schedule, former football star Herschel Walker, defended the president against those who call him a racist.

“It hurts my soul to hear the terrible names that people call Donald,” Mr. Walker said. “The worst one is ‘racist.’ I take it as a personal insult that people would think I would have a 37-year friendship with a racist.”

But that emphasis clashed with Mr. Trump’s instinct to energize his die-hard loyalists.

He featured, for example, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple charged with felonies for pointing guns at what prosecutors deemed non-violent Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their home.

“What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country,” Patricia McCloskey said, sitting on a couch in a wood-paneled room.

“They’ve actually charged us with felonies for daring to defend our home,” her husband said.

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