Hey there, it's the NPR Politics podcast. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign. I'm Frank Jordania as I cover the White House. And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.
And the time now is 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, August 24th. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have now officially been renominated as the Republican Party's presidential and vice presidential nominees. Please join me in welcoming the president of the United States of America and our nominee, Donald J. Trump. And to be an American. The day began this morning with roll call in-person with some 300 delegates in North Carolina.
You have you want to really drive him crazy. You say 24 years.
And then the party picked up again this evening in Washington, D.C. It has been a long first day. So why don't we start with what stood out to you all? And Franco, since you covered President Trump and you have seen him so often, why don't we have you begin? Sure.
On the one hand, you know, we did see tonight this kind of softer side of President Trump. You know, we saw him talking with front line workers at the White House. We also heard these stories about President Trump from Steve Scalise, about Trump visiting him in the hospital after he was shot, or also about how Trump comforted the family of Congressman Jim Jordan after his nephew died.
And it was really what, you know, kind of some of Trump's aides talked about that we were going to see this optimistic convention.
But what's interesting, though, is like if not equally, probably more so if the emphasis was really on how Republicans were also painting a very dark picture should Biden win the election. President Trump earlier today accused Democrats of trying to use the coronavirus to steal the election. He repeated claims, for example, also of if Biden were to win, that the country would be overrun with violence. And he talked about Portland and other major cities that have been having challenges right now.
And he also said the Democrats were seeking to take away people's guns, take away people's religion, and also take away U.S. oil, basically energy production.
So it was kind of a dark, a dark narrative that that the president and the Republicans were painting at the same time.
Yeah, yeah, I agree with that. I was struck by how the first night of the convention was trying to do two things at once.
One was the red hot red meat for the base. Just what Franco described, the kind of warning to suburban America, you know, rioters and looters are coming to you courtesy of Joe Biden or as Don Jr. put it, people of faith are under attack.
You're not allowed to go to church, but mass chaos in the streets gets a pass. It's almost like this election is shaping up to be church work in school versus rioting, looting and vandalism or in the words of Biden and the Democrats, peaceful protesting.
But they also tried to address two of Donald Trump's biggest deficits.
One is that he's mishandled the pandemic. And that's why you had all sorts of testimonials from people talking about how well he did against the pandemic and talking about fast tracking a vaccine. You know, the good news is, is is to come on that and also addressing the second deficit, which is that he's an uncaring, empathetic guy who only thinks about himself. And then we saw the kinder and gentler Trump. I don't think we've ever seen Donald Trump sitting with a group of ordinary Americans saying, tell me your stories.
How about you?
I'm a custodian at the post office as well. What do you do exactly?
Clean up everybody's mess and everybody's germs and all that.
Can I say that that world, that profession will never be out of business? You know that, right? Thank you very much for being here.
And I don't know if it'll work or not, but it clearly is designed to give a permission structure to people who are put off by his behavior and his tweeting. But they're not sold on Joe Biden.
You know, you mentioned the pandemic. And I will say I was struck by this bold and I to say it was sort of a surreal effort, in my view, to rewrite recent history around the pandemic. You know, you're right in saying that the Democrats focused a lot on the high death toll that the United States is seen as a result covid-19. And and this has been a weakness for the president leading into today. You know, there was polling, I believe, just out today, actually, that showed some 30 percent ish of Americans, you know, feel comfortable with the way the president handled the situation.
That jives with reporting I've done myself this summer, even with the Republicans, there has been this sense that they wish the president would have acted more decisively quicker. So to me, it was like this whiplash to hear tonight, all these people praising the decisive, swift action they say the president brought about with covid because that just it doesn't jive with the reality I've seen. It doesn't jive with polling either that we've seen.
Well, it certainly jibes with what you hear from the White House briefing room every single day there. But the reason why he has been so defensive about that and have been delivering this message is because of kind of like that polling that you say and that this dissatisfaction that many Americans have about the job that President Trump has done on this issue, I mean, people are very, very concerned about what's going on. And President Trump is taking a lot of the blame.
He knows he's. Taking a lot of the blame and that's why he's doing all these things and trying to give this message that that these these problems are not his fault and he's doing all the things that he needs to do, and that's why he's trying to get other people to say that as well.
And, you know, it's very hard to redefine someone who is as ubiquitous on the public scene as Donald Trump. He totally dominates the media narrative.
The the opinions of his handling of the virus are widespread and really have been unchanging for months. So I don't know if a couple of days of this convention can change people's views of how he's done on the coronavirus. Now, I think that maybe it'll help with some members of his base that have strayed, you know, seniors, white, non college voters. But it's going to be hard to convince people that Donald Trump has done a great job on the coronavirus.
I mean, this convention, at least day one of it to me largely seems like a message that was exclusively catered to debate. I'm about exclusive.
Is that normally what conventions are supposed to be about? I mean, you've covered a lot of these conventions. Is it supposed to be about rallying the base? No.
Normally conventions are about expanding your base, reaching out to voters who aren't with you yet. But what I'm struck by is how much both parties are catering to their bases. Part of that is because there's such a tiny slice of the electorate that's truly up for grabs. Some people estimate is only seven or eight percent. But we are a polarized nation, and this is about getting your base to the polls, energizing and keeping them enthusiastic, not necessarily convincing people who aren't with you yet.
And also with Trump. I mean, he brought a new method to to running a campaign. He didn't try to expand, expand to other outside of his base. What he did was he expanded his base and he brought more people in to fill his base. So I think he he brings a different approach. So he's trying to excite more of his base rather than trying to get people that are outside that he doesn't think he'd get anyways. All right.
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And Mara, you talked about how this convention in some ways has been a response to some of the critiques of the Democrats raised. And one way that I thought this also addressed that issue was in kind of fighting back against accusations of racism.
And we heard this, I would say, you know, from a lot of people, perhaps most clearly from Nikki Haley in much of the Democratic Party, it's now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie. America is not a racist country.
And it felt like there was a lot of pushing back on this narrative of we aren't racist. That's an unfair accusation. You know, the country isn't racist. The party isn't racist.
Yeah, well, there's a lot of layers to that. When Nikki Haley says that Democrats think America is racist, that is the 2020 version of saying Democrats think you're deplorable. People do not like to be called racist. And I don't I have never heard Joe Biden or Kamala Harris or any Democratic leaders say America is racist. That's the kind of accusation that elites look down on you. They think you're stupid, they think you're racist, that Donald Trump used a very good effect in 2016.
But I do think that the inclusion of Nikki Haley and Tim Scott tonight was sending a message that Republicans are are a diverse party to my grandfather's ninety ninth birthday would have been tomorrow.
Growing up, he had to cross the street if a white person was coming. He lived long enough to see his grandson become the first African-American to be elected to both the United States House and the United States Senate in the history of this country. Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime.
Now, they're not very many minorities in the Republican Party, but there are some and they both came from the same state, happened to coincidentally, both come from South Carolina and they come from the same state. And what was really interesting about Nikki Haley's address, even though she did acknowledge that her state was the site of a white supremacist attack on a black church, Nikki Haley said. And after that, she said we, quote, removed a divisive symbol and a total euphemism.
She couldn't say the words, we removed the Confederate flag. All she could say was we removed a divisive symbol.
And that shows you how constrained Republicans are. They can't she can't even say that she took down the Confederate flag in South Carolina.
It's a really difficult issue with with with with the party and and with President Trump as well, who's made Confederate symbols a real cause.
We've heard him going back and forth about whether the Confederate flag, whether NASCAR should have removed or not removed the Confederate flag. It's been a it's been a challenge for for him because and he said, you know, very recently that he saw it as a freedom of speech issue and that that was an easy decision for him, that he the people he knew didn't see it as a a racist symbol.
So so overall, what did you all make of the nights feel the the tone? I mean, did you feel like, you know, we were talking earlier about it just being a message that seemed to cater largely to the Republican base.
It felt like a lot of fear mongering to me.
It was not, you know, as we said, not not as optimistic, I think is what we were led to believe it might be.
I thought it was a split track night. It was Joe Biden is going to ruin America, bring in socialism, rioters and looters to your neighborhood. And by the way, Donald Trump is a really nice, caring guy.
Hmm. Those were the two messages.
I mean, just take President Trump's trip to North Carolina today. I mean, he did a surprise trip to Charlotte to to meet with the delegates at the convention center. Right as they were nominating him. Then he goes to Asheville and Mills River, North Carolina.
He made a very explicit point and each stop when he addressed his supporters that he showed up and let's do it and I'm going to show up and I'm not going to tell anybody, you know, until a few minutes ago, nobody knew I was coming.
Right. Nobody knew I was coming. So he said, I am here.
And he blasted Joe Biden's decision to not travel to Wisconsin for his own convention.
He made it very clear that this was a way that he was being different than Joe Biden. And I think we're going to see that in the coming days as well on the.
Way back to Washington on Air Force One, a senior administration official kind of came back and talked to some of us reporters and said that that we are going to see these kind of things talked about how President Trump does best when he's engaging with a people and kind of showing his interpersonal skills and assured us that we're going to see more of those examples as the week goes along.
All right. That's it for tonight. One of the Republican convention. A lot of us from the NPR politics team will be covering the convention live every night, starting at 9:00 p.m. on the radio. You can find your NPR station at NPR Exaltations or by asking your smart speaker to play NPR. And, of course, we'll be back every night this week in your podcast feed. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.
I'm Frank Cardona as I cover the White House. And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.
And as always, thank you for listening to the NPR Politics podcast.