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[00:00:06]

Hello and welcome to this late night reaction edition of the 538 Politics Podcast. I'm Dylan Brooke. We just wrapped up the third night of the Republican National Convention.

[00:00:17]

The theme was America Land of Heroes. And we heard a lot about law enforcement and the military. Vice President Mike Pence capped off an evening that didn't have too many high profile names. But perhaps the most noteworthy part of the night was the lack of focus on current events, Hurricane Laura, unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and, of course, the pandemic. So let's talk about that decision and the message that was on display. And here with me to break it all down, our managing editor, Michael Cohen.

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Hey, Mike.

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Hello, Glenn. Hello, everybody.

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Also here with us, politics editor Sarah Frost. And Sanjay, Sarah Palin and elections analyst Jeffrey Scalloway.

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Hejaz a gallon.

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So almost all of the speeches were pre-recorded tonight. Mike Pence was one of the few live speeches, maybe other than the invocation. So he did touch on some of the crises that are going on in the country right now. I want to start off by talking about that speech as it was the main show in the primetime. Our Michael, what was the takeaway from Pence's speech this evening? And generally, was he an effective messenger for the Trump Pence ticket?

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I think, yes, he was an effective messenger. The case that the Trump campaign is making on all the issues of the day is obviously fundamentally different than the case as we saw it at the DNC. And I thought Pence did a perfectly good job of of making those cases, you know, on coronavirus the cases, this was something that couldn't be prevented. Trump acted swiftly. I'm obviously not getting into how credible these cases are, just what they are.

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Right on the problem of systemic racism and police violence against black Americans, the Trump campaign cases, those aren't really problems. And instead, the problem is a disrespect for the country and a disrespect for law enforcement. And then on the economy, the Trump campaign says basically we built a great economy before the pandemic hit. Again, the pandemic was outside of our control. We can build it again. I thought Pence did a did a good job of of making all those cases.

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Now, the Trump campaign has been making those cases for weeks and weeks and weeks now, and it hasn't exactly helped him in the polls. But Pence was an effective messenger of those cases tonight. And maybe the the increased spotlight of the convention will make Americans come to those cases anew in thinking through tonight, going into it, we knew that there were two big stories, right?

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Everything that's happening in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and in the hurricane. And I think you saw one of the limitations of this virtual format. Right.

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It kind of was something that was prescheduled, pre-programmed.

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And you can't really deviate from that in the way that you could in a live convention.

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But then a question I had in all of what would happen and unfold tonight as Republicans are making their case, was how much they continue to toe the line on that tension we saw in the first two nights where it's we are the party of diversity, too. Here's what that looks like in a GOP world. And here's where we stand on police brutality as well. But tonight, I thought you saw more of a doubling down on law and order. That was how they chose to frame what happened in Kenosha.

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Should not talk about Jacob Blake, but talk about the fact that there's violence now in the streets. And I'm curious how that will work. You know, we were talking last night on the podcast about how we've seen dip in support after a seismic shift on support for black lives matters, particularly among white Americans.

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And so a question I'm grappling, I think, with all of this is, does this find a receptive audience now, particularly in suburban America? Because we saw appeals to that tonight as well, particularly with white women. And so I'm curious, does that how does that play, especially after a summer where you saw so much monumental shift on issues like discrimination in the U.S.?

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I guess the question to kind of throw it back is part of the reason we saw that seismic shift earlier in the summer is that the focus was on police violence against black Americans, George Floyd and then protests and companies and different politicians talking about that specific issue as that faded unrest in certain cities like Portland and Chicago were more in the headlines. Do we have any kind of expectation that at this point, the specific actions kind of shooting Jacob Blake will? Overtake the unrest that we're seeing in some cities and the main focus will be on police violence again, because that might be the main decider in how this is all received.

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That's a tough question.

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I mean, those two stories are so interlinked, both in, you know, in reality. Right. One was the cause of the other. The protests were a response to police violence against black Americans, but also in the way the media covers the stories. Now, I do think that Sarah is right, that. At least throughout much of American history campaigns that run on law and order and all the racial overtones that come with that message and have come with that message, it's not like they have an unblemished record.

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As Jeff was pointing out, there actually haven't been that many presidential campaigns defined by that message. But suffice to say that that message has had a lot of power in American politics. And if you go from here to November, all Americans are watching on their TVs. To your point, Gailen, are are scenes of violence in the cities? Maybe that message still has still has power.

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If those stories in the media are weighted more towards the cause of the unrest and the causes of the unrest, which I actually think in the wake of the Floyd killing, the media did a pretty good job of of getting to those causes. Then maybe we see, you know, support, support for BLM and support for what BLM stands for. Tick back up again. But that's that is the tension here, I think. And when you watch the RNC, you do feel like, OK, this message does has does have the potential to resonate with with a lot of voters.

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Yeah, I think that's exactly right in that, you know, we can't know how things are going to shape up from here. But I do think it's worth noting that one of the challenges with the law and order messaging for the Trump campaign is that the coronavirus remains the most important issue. I was just double checking Gallup's numbers on this. And about a third of the country still says it's the most important problem facing the country. And I think as long as that's the case and President Trump's approval rating in terms of his handling of the coronavirus is very, very negative.

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Earlier tonight, I was looking at it's about 38 percent approve, 50 percent disapprove. And, you know, as long as that's the case, that that's going to make it very difficult, I think, to to find success with other messaging, if that's the most important problem. And that's how the president is being judged for his his performance on the most important problem. However, as Michael was saying, there's some time left till November, obviously.

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And if if the coronavirus does lessen in terms of its impact on people and it fades a bit, and maybe law and order becomes a bigger issue, crime becomes a bigger issue, and maybe that's maybe that's the opportunity. But of course, it's impossible to say.

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I totally agree with that. And the other thing I would add, and I think this gets lost somewhat in when people talk about the potential power of that law and order message, although I'd like as I just said, I do agree that it has a lot of potential power.

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You know, we have seen a shift to the left on issues of race among whites in America. And if you look at President Trump's approval ratings on issues like race relations or the protests, he gets terrible marks.

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And that crucially includes among voters who live in the suburbs, for example, or among women. Right. And so if if the Trump campaign theory is that we can use law and order and fear of crime and fear of, frankly, black people to scare white suburbanites into voting for Trump Pence in 2020, there's not much evidence that is is working, at least not yet.

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I think to echo that, you know, this summer in particular with his approval rating, it was hard to separate some of the underlying explanations behind it because it was timed roughly around the second wave of a lot of what we've seen with the pandemic.

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But then also, you know, end of May, everything that first erupted with Floyd, but Trump, he wasn't Teflon Don in that moment. Right.

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Like there was a granted. His approval rating is back up, but there were like negative repercussions for some of the ways in which I think he handled that situation.

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I wonder, though, the parallels to Charlottesville are limited here, other than what we saw in Kenosha, again, is a Trump supporter for the alleged shooter and that connection and that not being addressed.

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And again, it goes back to a presidency built on stoking some of that rhetoric around racial division.

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How much of that is priced into people's approximation of what they're hearing from Pence, how they're thinking about this moving forward? Or is it enough know like this is violence, I'm done with the violence in my community? Or is it more so? Trump is somehow blamed for this. And I genuinely don't know where public opinion will go on that.

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I mean, how big of a factor is the simple issue that President Trump is the incumbent? And when you poll Americans, it's 20 some percent who believe the country is on the right track. Like if you just boil it down to that, that President Trump is the incumbent. And even if you say that Democrats are the one. Stoking unrest in the streets or at least allowing for unrest in the streets. Can you really just completely pin it on your opponent, the person who's out of office, out of power?

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Yeah.

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So I think that's a fundamental problem for the Trump pince campaign, because as long as we're talk about the incumbent, you know, how do you pin those problems on the other party? And if you're trying to do law and order messaging, the problem is that you own the state of law and order as the incumbent president. And, you know, we were talking earlier about how this has sometimes sometimes found success as, you know, a campaign slogan and approach.

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You know, Richard Nixon won in 1968, but he wasn't the incumbent. Lyndon Johnson was the incumbent and he was unpopular. And there was an unpopular war going on and civil strife in the streets. And that all hurt Hubert Humphrey. And then another example that came to mind was in 1988, George H.W. Bush won. He beat Michael Dukakis. And yes, he was the incumbent vice president. But Ronald Reagan was reasonably popular and he was able to make the Willie Horton video really, really stick to the caucus.

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And that became a big issue in the race. So I just don't think that the the twenty circumstances match what we saw in those two cycles.

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For example, the other thing just to point out is the suburbs in America have changed a lot over the intervening decades. Right. The suburbs are not all white anymore. You know, I was looking at a twenty eighteen study that found that 68 percent of suburbanites were white, 14 percent Hispanic, 11 percent were black. A Pew Research Center survey found that the share of mothers who stay at home with children fell from 49 percent in 1967 to 27 percent in 2016.

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So if the Trump campaign has this image in its head of, you know, appealing to kind of the Howdy Doody suburban America, I don't think that's right. Now, there are vestiges of that large vested vestiges in some parts of the country. But I don't think it's right is how do you do do the right the right reference?

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I have never actually Leave It to Beaver, maybe 15 years later. Yeah, that's that's Beaver. That's what I was thinking of.

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Yeah. I want to hit on some of the other themes of the evening. We heard from some prominent women within the Trump administration and within the Republican Party. We heard from President Trump's daughter in law, Laura Trump. We heard from Kellyanne Conway. We also heard from South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and Marsha Blackburn, senator from Tennessee. And there was also a focus on the women's suffrage movement and 100 years since the 19th Amendment. So what is the idea here of how the Trump campaign is pitching itself to women voters?

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I would say one recurring theme that you've seen, you know, tonight, but then the other two nights as well is this idea of, you know, as a woman, Trump sees value in me, but it's not because I'm a woman.

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It's because I was the best person for the job. And I think that, you know, they've worn the suffragette white, which we often associate with Democratic women. That's often been a, you know, feature of the various states of the union addresses. But a lot of the Republican women speakers have also worn white. And I think part of it, too, is, you know, so much of 2013 was the year of the Democratic woman. But as Meredith Conroy has written for the site, you know, 2020 really could be the year of the GOP woman.

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And you've seen that a lot in the House races. More Republican women are running doesn't mean they'll win in November. But I think the party is trying to acknowledge that, acknowledging to what we've talked about before about Trump having a problem with women in 2016 and winning them over and making an appeal for that this year. You know, in another story in research that we've done, we find that more women, you know, turn out to vote than men.

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And if Republicans can make a dent in two women supporting them because there has been a gender gap at the presidential level since 1980, that would still be an opportunity, though, for them, particularly among college educated women, to try to win back some of them into the party fold.

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Yeah, would be it would be huge if they could do it. I'm not sure I see the logic in the in the strategy they're employing. Like Trump won among white women in 2016. White women have shifted left since then.

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So on the one hand, you might say, OK, maybe maybe the the strategy here is simply for the Trump campaign to win back the white women they've lost since 2016. If that's true, though, I'm not sure the best strategy is to is to say Trump is a supporter of women, Trump isn't a sexist when you're talking about voters who who pulled the lever for Trump in 2016. Right. This was right after the Access Hollywood tape. This is Trump running against the first woman to be a major party nominee in U.S. history.

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In other words, women's issues, as they're often called, are really what whatever women's issues are. Right? Women are a majority of voters.

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And so, you know, some of the criticism you've seen of the RNC about them, not like actually tackling the issues of the day, the pandemic, race relations, the economy, I think gets at a potential flaw in their strategy to win back women. You know, I'd wager and I think this polling to support this, that a lot of the deterioration in in Trump's support among white women, for example, does have to do with his handling of the pandemic, does have to do with his handling of the protests and race relations.

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And so if they're trying to win those voters back, you know, a cogent argument on those issues, I think might work better than simply saying Trump isn't sexist. That's speculative.

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Maybe it's been an interesting theme in how the RNC has also featured a lot of speakers of color, particularly black speakers, and that in general, the message from the Republican Party is that it's not about descriptive representation. Right. Like you don't need a black person to represent black interests. You know, we're representing all American interests. However, it's put a lot of black speakers front and center as kind of this pitch that we are an inclusive party.

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You know, one note there is that when it comes to how the Republican Party actually appeals to voters of color, they have a much more appeal with Latino voters. They got about a third of the Latino vote in national elections than black voters. And we haven't heard that much from Latino speakers, which I thought has been interesting in the sense that, like, if it's an actual outreach campaign, you might hear more from Latino speakers as opposed to more of a campaign that like, hey, we are inclusive.

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You know, the criticism from the Democrats that we're racist are just untrue.

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I think you just see the power of of the moment in that and the power of the media in that, because the GOP as a party and most of its members, you know, as you said, Galen, they do not believe in sort of identity based representation. They do not believe that there's there's value in and of itself in having sort of diversity in representation. That's their kind of stated ideology.

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And yet it's clear they've gone out of their way to feature black Republicans at the RNC. So to me, to me, that's just evidence of of kind of, you know, whatever whatever you believe as a party. And there are examples of this on the Democratic side, too. Whatever you believe as a party, you know, the the pull of, like, political realities is pretty strong, right?

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Yeah. I mean, look, a counterexample to this and you can talk about trying to broaden the appeal for Biden, but at the Democratic convention. Sure. A lot of Republicans speaking. So, I mean, if you are sort of thinking about I mean, it's a slightly different identity thing, but it just reminds me of that where at the end of the day, there are not a lot of Republicans or even former Republicans who are going to be the ones voting for Joe Biden in November.

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But it's obviously something they want to focus on.

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Yeah, you know, it's funny, I think you titled the podcast last night, Cognitive Dissonance, Gailen.

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And that that's kind of been to me. What's been interesting about watching this is the contradictions in the arguments the GOP is putting forth.

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And I thought that was really summed up well, when Pence said in his speech tonight, we don't have to choose between supporting law enforcement and standing with African-American neighbors.

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So it's Republicans who are trying to say, look, the violence in the cities right now, it's not safe. We won't stand for it. But we're also not racist.

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And I wonder how effective that that is. And you see that in women messaging there as well, right? It's you know, I'm a woman in the party. I am proud to be here. But Trump chose me because of my skills.

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And I think they've been able to leverage to gaffes from Biden particularly well within this convention, the one where it's like he said he'd pick any woman to be his VP.

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You know, Trump wouldn't do something like that. I think that resonates with a certain segment of the population. And then the second one was when Biden infamously said. If you're black, like you're going to vote for me, right, you're not going to vote for Trump, you won't even consider it. And I think the RNC has made a concentrated effort in most of the black speakers. They've brought on all three nights to kind of attribute that and say I'm an independent thinker.

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Democrats don't understand the complexity of the black vote. And that's not been the only time that Biden stumbled on that front either. There was a, you know, a recent gaffe where he was talking about how the Latino vote is so complex, but the black votes not. I think Republicans have leverage that well.

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But it's just there's that embedded contradiction and all of this. And it's hard, I think, in watching it to help disentangle how effective that messaging ultimately will be.

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Yeah, it's tough. I mean, Jamelle Bouie, opinion columnist at The Times, said this on Twitter. And I think it's right. You know, look like and this isn't partisan to say, but like there are a lot of problems in the country right now. And President Trump is the incumbent president, which is a very simple political analysis, but is at the root of a lot of this. And what Jamal said was basically a lot of the Republican rhetoric sort of just imagines that there wasn't a pandemic, that, you know, nearly 180000 people haven't died, that there isn't this huge economic collapse.

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You know, that there isn't just this incredibly poignant racial unrest and reckoning.

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How can that work? How long can they do that? Is it wise to do that? You know, those that all remains to be seen, but it's tough, it's the central core fundamental problem the Trump campaign has. Trump is now the incumbent. He's not the political outsider anymore. It goes back to what we were talking about earlier of every time he mentions unrest in the streets. He's taking a risk because he's the president. And so there's no there's no way around that really.

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There is rhetorically, I guess. But but at least according to current polling, there doesn't seem to be among voters.

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All right. Well, I think that's a good place to leave things. So let's wrap it up. Thank you, Mike, Sarah and Jeffrey, for hanging out with me late tonight.

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Thank Thanksgiving. Thanks, everybody. Sarah, stay safe down there.

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Thank you. Thank you. Sarah, you're in Houston as the hurricane comes in. Stay safe. And of course, anybody in the hurricane's path, I guess it's more towards Louisiana at this point anyway. My name is Galen Drew. Tony Chiao is in the virtual control room. You can get in touch by e-mailing us at Podcast's at five 30 Ekom. You can also, of course, tweet us with questions or comments. If you're a fan of the show, leave us a rating or review in the Apple podcast store or tell someone about us.

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Thanks for listening and we'll see you soon.