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[00:00:06]

Hello and welcome to this late night reaction edition of the 538 Politics podcast, I'm Galen Droog. We've just wrapped up the second night of the Republican National Convention, where First Lady Melania Trump capped off the evening with a speech from the White House Rose Garden. We also heard from two Trump children, Eric and Tiffany, from the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, which was something of a break from democratic norms. The party also showcased some of the diversity within its ranks.

[00:00:34]

We heard speeches from the first Latina lieutenant governor of Florida and the first black attorney general of Kentucky is a pretty varied night, particularly between the first hour and a half, which wasn't in primetime and then the hour that was in primetime. So here with me to break it down for you all is politics editor Sara Frostings. And hey, Sarah. Hey, Gailen. Also with us is senior politics writer Perry Bacon, Jr..

[00:00:57]

Hey, Perry Hagel and elections analyst Nathaniel Rakesh. Hey, Nathaniel. Good evening. So, as I said, it was a varied night.

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But I just want to start off with some of your broader reactions to all of the different content, Perry. Can you kick us off? What was your takeaway from the evening and perhaps what was the message that the party was trying to send about itself?

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So in terms of the message it was pushing, it was like some of the same themes as last night, essentially trying to sort of a softer side of Trump Melania's speech, try to get it. I thought I thought that the part that he did and the naturalization ceremony was trying to get it, that a lot of attempts to suggest the party is good on racial issues. I think that in some ways, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley gave speeches like that last night.

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And then tonight, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the Florida lieutenant governor, kind of gave the same kind of like diverse faces speaking for the party. The other big thing, it jumped out at me, I think it'll be a story is President Trump using official acts as part of this political event? And again, I mentioned for the pacifically Melania giving the speech at the White House lawn, Secretary Pompeo participating and giving a speech, and then both the president in the White House doing the naturalization ceremony with the homeland security secretary and also the president giving a pardon at the White House.

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So I think one of the big things we will tonight is about, you know, it's not news, not new. The Trump sort of breaks with norms that we've never really seen this kind of use of the official job to politic in this way. And it was very striking. And then the usual to see that. And I think that'll be the news in part because other speakers with that news tonight.

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Is it fair to say that we saw violations of the Hatch Act tonight? I know none of us are constitutional lawyers, but we've been reading some different takes on what happened throughout the evening.

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So as far as we can tell what happened, the biggest one, I would say is that Chad Wolf, who's the homeland security secretary, by being in the White House and naturalizing people, though, seem to be the most obvious one at the RNC, I would assume some staffers of the White House, like the president himself, is not subject to the Hatch Act in the same way that other officials are. But I think it'll be interesting to watch, to know who in the White House participated in these events, because it's hard to imagine Trump pulled them off sort of like by himself.

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So I think that is a real question as well.

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And also, we should note that the Hatch Act is enforced by the executive branch. It's not like anyone's going to be arrested for this or anything, because ultimately, Bill Barr is the head of the Justice Department. He is supports Trump's reelection, I think.

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And I at least I don't think he's gonna show up to say that. But we never know what was Wednesday and Thursday at this point. And I should just mention that the essence of the Hatch Act is that it's a federal law that prohibits government officials from campaigning on the job or in their official capacity. Trump as president and Mike Pence as vice president are not covered by the Hatch Act, but pretty much everyone else surrounding them is right. Exactly.

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Before we quickly turn away from the Hatch Act, I just don't think that's something that Democrats are going to go after. You know, something that was brought up this evening, which was not a highlight moment, but was the fact that, you know, we were talking about Hunter Biden again and corruption in the Biden family where money went and how Democrats didn't even touch that last week with nepotism within the Trump family and the hotel and all of the businesses.

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So I hate to burst the bubble there, but I don't think the Hatch Act is going to dominate conversations the following day. However, it probably will in the context of the naturalization ceremony. So I am undercutting myself there a little. So that brings me to my two points this evening.

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I want to I want to ask you, sir, before you go on, why don't you think that Democrats will latch onto it?

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I think for Democrats from both everything with the Mueller investigation to impeachment earlier this year, if anyone can still remember that, they just haven't had success in, I think, tackling some of the norm, defying behavior Trump has done. So I think what you saw in the DNC convention. In terms of the attack in the case they made for why Democrats should be in the White House this fall, it's less centered on what Trump has done wrong and more about here is how we are going to, you know, build back better.

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But the emphasis is on moving forward.

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Trump's got to go. He is a threat to democracy, but less focus specifically on the specifics of that, because I just don't think it lands with people in terms of that granularity.

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And more focus, of course, on coronavirus and the economy. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.

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I mean, I definitely agree with Sarah that it wouldn't be a very smart attack line for Democrats to use, and I don't expect that they will use it. But I also don't think that we should kind of blow past it and just shrug our shoulders and say, oh, Trump, you know, has violated a bunch of norms. What's one more? I do think this is significant and it should be treated as perhaps not the biggest scandal of his administration, but certainly a scandal.

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I think there are also added layers onto it insofar as Chad Wolf, the the guy who swore in the new Americans at the naturalization ceremony, he was actually found to have illegally taken the job of acting secretary of homeland security. So it's not even clear that he has the authority to be doing the job that he is supposedly doing. So there are many layers of legal questionability here.

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And, you know, it's it's pretty clear to me that this was not normal and shouldn't be treated as such.

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So maybe it's fair to say that as far as reactions tomorrow morning or late this evening in the press, it will get airtime, but it's not going to be something that Democrats use as a strategy and also that it is newsworthy regardless of whether or not Americans will vote on it. Hopefully, we have clarified that put a stake in the ground marking the potential violations of the Hatch Act. Beyond that, what was the takeaway from the evening?

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Because that's part of the problem to me, Gail, is last night I thought there was at least one of my takeaways was Tim Scott gave a really great speech and Nikki Haley and Tim Scott were combined really strong last night.

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I thought Melania's speech was interesting in that she gave a very bipartisan speech. There were a lot of things that I think, you know, talking about opioids, talking about people coming together. There were a lot of lines in which 100 percent of Americans could agree. So I thought her presentation of those lines of that kind of speech was good. I thought she talked about her husband a lot and sort of a unifying wyhe, not being a unifying figure himself, but she's represented him is more unifying that I think of him as normally.

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But the other thing, I guess, is like the pardons and the Immigration Naturalization ceremony, you know, Trump has run the country as Mr. Build the wall, the Muslim ban. I'm going to get rid of DACA.

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So it was very striking tonight to watch him sort of be pro immigration and sort of the besides that, he's welcoming people to the country when they have not been shy about this. Like the Stephen Miller is one of the leading people in the White House and they have been trying to limit legal and illegal immigration for three years. So it is a pivot in the sense that I think they are trying to appeal not only to minorities, to some extent, Latinos, blacks, Asians on these issues, but also and the man who was pardoned was black.

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So I think there was definitely an outreach to minorities. I think, as I said last night, is also an attempt to appeal to more moderate white people who might be weary of the reception that Trump or the GOP is racist, although there were a lot of more. So though I think those two moments were actually telling. And I think that naturalization ceremony, even if it was illegal, was actually probably a good political move and an interesting one aside from the illegality of the peninsula.

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Yeah, Perry, I think it was interesting. Danielle Cameron, the attorney general of Kentucky, who's a rising star in the party, gave a speech that was very similar to what a couple of speakers yesterday did, including Vernon Jones, the state representative from Georgia, who is a Democrat who is endorsing Trump, which is saying that black people are independent thinkers. We can be Republicans to, you know, and kind of carrying this implicit message that Republicans are not racist.

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But I agree with you to your earlier point. You know, Nate brought up on the live blog. There was a lot of cognitive dissonance tonight, which is that Trump is suddenly pro immigration when we know from the coverage of the last four years that he's extremely anti-immigration. I also thought it was interesting you had Pam Bondi, the former attorney general of Florida, who became one of Donald Trump's defense attorneys, I guess, during his impeachment trial. She was taking the case to Hunter Biden and accusing the Bidens of using office for their personal gain and the gain of their family, which, of course, is something that Trump himself has been accused of.

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So I think it takes a lot of suspension of disbelief from viewers to kind of take all that stuff at face value. I would expect that to the extent that we know, I'm sure this is something we'll talk about when we know that the ratings of both conventions this year are down. So probably most people, most viewers will hear about these conventions second hand through the. I would expect that things like that will be covered with a filter by the media, which is to say that they were hypocritical or cognitively dissonant or through maybe right wing media as evidence that President Trump is a strong leader.

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So kind of it serves whatever purpose it may need to given the circumstance. But as you're saying, it's not the kind of thing that is going to be broadcast on the evening news to the tens of millions of people who watch it, totally unvarnished as it was, except for tonight. And presumably people who are not super engaged in politics and undecided at this point are not the kind of people who are watching a whole two and a half hour convention on the nightly news surrogate.

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And here, what was your reaction to some of that?

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So it's been interesting that we saw on night one and again here in 92 with many of the same themes that both Perry and Nathaniel have touched on, is kind of the central tension between the past four years. We've not only made it harder for undocumented immigrants to enter the US, but we've also taken active steps to make legal immigration harder, whether that's restricting work visas, student visas, you know, there is a backlog now at the U.S. is to process naturalization ceremonies here.

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Part of that's because of covid. But there was also a back up prior to that. And so it's been interesting is this pivot in the party to say, you know what, actually, we're going to feature more stories from immigrants tonight, talk about how America is the land of immigrants, but the not acknowledge in any real way some of the past four years.

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And I thought that was what was so striking about Melania's speech tonight, too, is she was one of the only speakers this evening to kind of acknowledge that the pandemic's been difficult for a lot of Americans, that there were missteps, that it's been hard. And since March, you know, a lot of people have been out of work or they've had loved ones die. And that was something that, again, last night, for instance, when we were talking about the coronavirus, it was largely like China is to blame or Trump, you know, took really strong action in the beginning and kind of glossing over the facts there.

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And then the third thing I would say that I think will continue to see throughout the convention, I was kind of toying going in tonight. Where are we going to see more about Trump as an empathetic leader or more, you know, doubling down on this cancel culture element? And I think what's interesting is that's a term that, you know, I think we, especially here in the media, have been grappling with this summer, but had felt to me something that was, you know, the letter at Harpers or columnists at The New York Times.

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But I think the GOP is coopting that term now in trying to gin up support that way in this idea that freedom of speech is under attack.

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I'm curious how that plays out. Yeah, it was interesting, maybe emblematic of that prioritization of the culture war. But Tiffany, Trump gave a speech about cancer culture and usually that kind of child of the president, child of the candidate is talking up like my dad did this when I had a bad day or something like that. I want to talk about what you've just described, Sarah, from a strategic perspective.

[00:13:13]

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[00:15:09]

Dash five hundred. Again, that's audible dot com five three eight or text five three eight to five hundred. Dash five hundred. As we've established during this conversation so far, there is a clear choice to ignore some of what has been the president's priorities during the first three and a half years of his administration and during his campaign thus far, his first campaign.

[00:15:36]

Then there's also been a choice to not really talk directly about the realities of covid today, the fact that we're all still working remotely from a strategic perspective, doesn't it make sense to just ignore the things that don't serve your goal right now? Or would it be beneficial to Trump to say, like, look, I know things are kind of rough and I'm with you and we're going to get through this together because I'm a hard worker and I'm here for the American people.

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You know, I don't know. Do you guys have a sense?

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I think it might be too late for the second message, but I think yes, I think saying the second thing would really be better than saying I'm doing a great job.

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But I don't know.

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I mean, this is like the one issue that he has bad ratings and I'm not sure they're going to change tomorrow's. I'm not sure it really matters.

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Right. I think I think this is something that ultimately the campaign strategy in that regard probably isn't going to make a difference, because I doubt that people are going to forget about the pandemic. And like this is baked in. I'm not sure, you know, especially when Trump is down nine points in the polls. I'm not sure that the strategy he takes on coronavirus is going to be able to save his re-election campaign. I think it's going to take something actually changing with the realities of the pandemic and the economic crisis that is related to it.

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So you your message, your way out of this, it's about the actual, you know, people who are dying, whether there's a vaccine, whether there are treatments, how the economy is doing.

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I think so. I mean, I know that, you know, we have a complicated relationship with campaign fundamentals here at five thirty eight. But I think when they're this overwhelming and create such a big lead, that that is the the overriding factor that's fair.

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I think, though, in terms of the choice that Galen kind of gave us in this conversation, if you're Trump, you really can't back down or admit that there were missteps on your watch. You want to blame another country for the spread of the disease. Right. Which is why I think we see so much targeted attacks of China and the coronavirus.

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But then I think additionally, again, you know, it only told half the story. But on night one, there was the the footage real where it was all the conflicting messages around whether to wear a mask, not to wear a mask.

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I think that's smart politics for Republicans to be doing in this. Again, I'm not sure how much that actually will move the numbers on it. Obviously, the more he could do to gin up the idea that a vaccine is imminent, I think that would probably be the biggest help for him. But I think he has to give a strong message. I mean, it makes me think back to way back when when Perry did the piece on, you know, why Trump blinked about the government shutdown.

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That was one of the few times I feel like in his administration where he's really backed down from a position. Right. He just makes these pivots which we then kind of sit here and talk about as, oh, wow, that feels out of left field. And so I'm curious, right. How does that land with both the pandemic with voters, but then also, you know, this this lighter or softer touch on immigration and saying it's important to the US as an issue.

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Sara brought up one of our internal sources. I want to bring up is that this idea, you know, we had the police shooting in Wisconsin. We now have protests and riots happening there. If you listen to a lot of these speeches that are happening here, you see a certain amount of like anarchists. The protests are going to overcontrol rioting. I want to there's a definitely the Republicans are trying to say essentially that we want to strike a balance between racial justice, but not going over the top.

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The cancel class things a little bit about canceling monuments. I think one of the of the monument here, you suggest Grant was taken down. I'm not sure what the what the polls say, but I do think there is a when the question was a few months ago, are the police too mean to black people? That was probably a good question. Net for Democrats. If the question is becoming, are the protesters rioting and is rioting bad, that obviously Joe Biden is not pro rioting.

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But I do think that the Republicans are trying to sort of change that discussion a little bit. And I do wonder in the next few days if the goal is to sort of create a gap between the protesters and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The Republicans not quite saying BLM is going too far, but that's definitely the implication. And there's definitely something they're trying to draw a little more. I wonder if that happens over the next couple of days, even more.

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The Republicans are saying we're on the side of the police, we're on the side of order, and the Democrats are not.

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Yeah, I was trying to find the exact line, but it was Melania even did that in her speech initially. At the end, she was like, you know, we should look past the color of people's skin. We need to know every black life matters, but then pivots to this idea of like, but there's rioting and that's not OK. So I think you're absolute. Right, period, that we're going to see more conversation around that from Republicans this week, what the polling is showing is that support for Black Lives Matter was at its all time high and like early June, and it's gone back to where it was pre before George Floyds death.

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I think two things are going on there. One is so all so there's a big increase in Republicans and independents who supported black clothes and they still won a majority. Republicans, obviously. But there was an increase in support in this comeback deal. And I think partly this is because until like the Wisconsin shooting, the last of the last month or so, these police shootings have not been in the news as much. I think it's just part of that is just purely people is not in the focus, is not in the news as much and so on.

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But I do think part of it is like BLM is a movement is not trying to be popular. And so in some ways they have pushed ideas like defunding the police and to some extent more. The protests are getting more aggressive because they're trying to get there like blocking streets more and that kind of thing. And so I do think BLM is not terribly popular and that support is going down. And so you're seeing that in polls to some extent is like the idea that it's sort of blacks face lots of discrimination.

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You're seeing Republicans and independents go back to their previous views, and that's a white Democrats are pretty much unified with black people at this point on these issues. But you're seeing white Republicans, white independents come back to kind of more of a sort of a pro police, more balanced views on these issues.

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Yeah, I'm curious, Perry, on the data that you discussed, whether it's clear what the Democrats' response is, particularly the Biden and Harris ticket. They've said that throughout the week they're going to be responding to criticism from the Republicans at the RNC and, you know, dishing out their own criticism of the Republicans. How have they tried to deal with that issue in the sense that support for Black Lives Matter has gone down a little bit and there's more focus on some of the rioting than the actual peaceful protesters who are protesting the killing of a black man by the police.

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I'm not sure how much an electoral problem it is. I mean, Joe Biden says he's against rioting and he's for the police like Black Lives Matter and Joe Biden, not the same thing at all. And I don't know that they're going to be struggle too much to Joe Biden is adamantly said over and over again he's opposed to everything, therefore, the controversial ideas they have. So I don't think it's a big problem for the Democrats.

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Interesting. That's a date tonight with Eric Trump to saying like, oh, Biden has pledged to take away the Second Amendment and defund the police.

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And I was like, what? Like, who is that for this evening? Yeah.

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I mean, it can't be effective if you just give people misinformation. That's, you know, they'll vote because they're afraid that Joe Biden wants to defund the police or undo the Second Amendment. I don't know. Do we have research on how effective misinformation can be in political campaigns?

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There are probably issues where you can mislead the public more, I might say. I'm not sure defunding the police is the easiest one because Joe Biden is going to go on TV tomorrow and say he's not for that. And if and he's a older white man who does not look like someone who supports defending the police.

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My last question here as we wrap up is that Rand Paul was actually the only federal lawmaker to speak tonight. And so we heard from more people on the state level. We heard from Trump's children and we heard a lot from kind of everyday people. I don't know if that was a choice or just the reality of a lot of federal lawmakers who are Republicans not being that interested in speaking out a Republican National Convention, but whether it was a choice or whether it was the default that they had to live with.

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Did it end up being a better show or a worse show as a result?

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I was trying to be contrarian and said early in the live blog that it was good they didn't have any famous people who were boring because I thought, you know, Pelosi and Schumer and various other senators were hella boring last week.

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That said, at the end of tonight, I'm straining to remember the names of some of the speakers, even in the 10:00 hour. I mean, so it would probably be good for Trump. I don't think he needs Kevin McCarthy or Liz Cheney or John Thune to speak. No one really knows or cares about them.

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If Laura Bush, George Bush, Mitt Romney, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Cindy McCain, Bob Dole, Ann Romney, who's Bob Dole, Bob Dole. I just think there are maybe OK, maybe.

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I think there's a there's a or maybe even an athlete. I feel like there are some famous Republicans who would get news coverage like this is hard for me to imagine. If you're Good Morning America beyond Melania Trump, who do you show tomorrow or CNN?

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Even like like I live in Kentucky, so I know who Daniel Cameron is, but he's the attorney general of a fairly small state. I just and he was in that he was right in the 10, 30 hours. So I wonder if they so I do think they sort of almost get to. Low wattage of people at the end of the day, on that note, to the fact that, you know, last week you had people like the former governor of Ohio and former 2016, you know, Republican candidate John Kasich coming out in support of Biden.

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And there were other high profile Republicans as well, including someone like Christine Todd Whitman, granite, you know, former head of the EPA and governor of New Jersey. So while back but still like those were people who came out in support of Biden, whereas Trump is got a state representative from Georgia who's a Democrat coming out. And then tonight it was the mayor of a town in Minnesota. The difference there, too, in terms of like Paul being the only federal legislator to talk, but then the bench of candidates from the other party that are speaking on your behalf is shallow to.

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And I think that kind of speaks volumes to how effective the outreach is to recruit Democrats or independents who maybe are unhappy with Biden in that direction.

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Yeah, I mean, I take your guy's point, and I think it certainly says something that the names are smaller. But I also think the convention should go with their strongest speakers and like people with the most compelling stories. And I think that as anyone who has seen a congressional hearing can tell you, federal lawmakers aren't necessarily the people with the most charisma. And I think in particular, Danielle Cameron, Jeanette Nunez, the lieutenant governor of Florida, and Galen mentioned in the intro, they are they were good speakers.

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They have good backgrounds. I think they're very good faces for the Republican Party to put forward. And just because their office is a little bit lower profile, I don't think that makes them more suited to speak at the convention.

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But if you're trying to get like more articles, more news coverage, is it is it a problem that CNN only cares about people that unfortunately the CNN producers are probably more hurt of Will Willard than Daniel Kahneman? Is it a problem for the media that creates a problem for you? Yes, absolutely.

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The lack of a kind of boldface name is certainly problematic for their ability to get more coverage. And I don't think that either Cameron or Nuñez really had a speech that is going to go viral tomorrow kind of on its own without earned media help. So, yeah, you know, I think that the ratings would be higher if George W. Bush were to make a surprise endorsement of Donald Trump, but he's not going to be the surprise of the century.

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Indeed, which speaking of, how have the ratings been so far, Nathaniel?

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We only have one night of data, obviously, from Monday night at the RNC. But like with the DNC, the ratings have been down. So 17 million people tuned into Monday night's proceedings, and that's down from 23 million from night one of the 2016 RNC Democrats on their night, one this year had, I believe, nineteen point seven million. So the Republicans were even lower than that. You know, I think there's probably a certain amount of just viewing trends going on.

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I think that obviously a lot more people are streaming rather than watching traditional network television these days. So I think the ratings were pretty much inevitably going to go down to some degree there. But, you know, unfortunately, these TV ratings that people cite from Nielsen only have the traditional networks and they don't include streaming numbers. So we don't really have a good sense for whether people are just switching their viewing habits or just aren't watching entirely. I think, you know, it's plausible that they're not watching entirely also because of the pandemic, because of the lack of star power and things like that.

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All right. Well, let's leave it there. We'll see how the rest of the week goes. But thank you, Perry, Sarah and Nathaniel, for staying up late with me this evening and sharing your two cents.

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Thanks, Galen. Thanks, Galen, tonight.

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And let me also give a shout out to our colleagues at ABC News who are also podcasting every day this week. Those podcasts, our political powerhouse and start here. Go check them out wherever you get your podcasts and also head up the 538 stories at five thirty eight dotcom slash. My name is Gail Drew. Tony Chow is in the virtual control room. You can get in touch by emailing us at podcasts at 538 dotcom. You can also, of course, treated us with questions or comments.

[00:29:30]

If you're a fan of the show, leave us a rating or review in the Apple podcast store or tell someone about us. Thanks for listening and we'll see.