The Republican Party this year decided not to draft a 2020 platform. Instead, they simply readopted their 2016 platform and released a short document pledging their loyalty, their love, and just about their first born to Trump.
The opening night of the convention was certainly filled with fulsome praise for Trump's greatness. "I am so in awe of your leadership!" one frontline worker gushed in a filmed White House meeting. "Trump is the bodyguard of Western civilization,” Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk declared. But for all the obsequiousness, the evening really underlined two other aspects of the non-platform: confusion and paranoia. The GOP is in disarray, trying desperately to bind itself together with the glue of shared, rabid hate.
There is no Republican platform in large part because Trump is still at odds with interest groups in the party. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner was tasked with creating a shorter party platform that would avoid some controversial positions. But conservative activists were enraged at being cut out of the process, and the RNC eventually compromised by simply throwing up its hands and giving up. The unified loyalty to Trump's majestic genius is a thin veil over Trump's utter inability to fulfil the simplest functions of a party leader — getting the party to unite around a platform.
The chaotic rudderlessness at the center of the platform was on full display at the convention as well. Speaker after speaker flailed about trying to hit upon some sort of consistent messaging strategy.
Nikki Haley boasted about how great South Carolina was when she was governor during the Obama years. Then she claimed to have made racial progress by taking down the Confederate flag from the statehouse during her tenure, while other speakers muttered darkly about “cancel culture”. Many speeches blamed teacher's unions for holding students back at a time when many schools can't even open because of an out-of-control pandemic. Trump's economy was praised enthusiastically, as if the past six months of spiking unemployment and grinding recession never happened.
Some footage showed people carefully wearing masks and social distancing. But that White House meeting with first responders and the president was unmasked, and people didn't look like they were standing six feet apart. The convention masterminds had obviously decided to talk up the latest supposed miracle cure to fight Covid: blood plasma treatments. But Trump helplessly reverted to babbling about his old favorite, hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug the conspiracy theorists love, but which has been thoroughly discredited as a Covid cure.
So what do you do when you can't stay on message for five minutes, much less two and a half hours? Well, the Republican non-platform attempts to glue itself together with anger, resentment, and negative partisanship. "The media has outrageously misrepresented the implications of the RNC not adopting a new platform in 2020 and continues to engage in misleading advocacy for the failed policies of the Obama-Biden Administration,” the Republican Party’s document says, and you can imagine the shaken fists when it was written. If you can't get your own act together, blame the people who have noticed you can't get it together, and then try to convince everyone the other guys are worse.
The convention followed the platform here too. Charlie Kirk warned that the left was in thrall to "bitter, deceitful angry activists." The McCloskeys, a St Louis couple famous for an incident in which they brandished guns at antiracist demonstrators, monotoned dead-eyed red-baiting horror stories: “Your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America."
Former Fox News personality Kimberly Ann Guilfoyle, in contrast, sounded positively cheerful as she bellowed that Democrats "want to enslave you to the weak liberal victim ideology!" Even Tim Scott, who was trying to wax eloquent about the promise of America, took a detour to warn that Democrats would inflict "socialist utopia" on the United States. (He assured viewers that this would be a bad thing, despite the well-known definition of “utopia”.)
The Democrats are sometimes attacked for having no positive platform, and for offering nothing to their voters but hatred of Trump. Whatever truth there is to this, it's obviously a tenfold more apt characterization of the Republicans, who literally have the same platform they had four years ago, at a time when we were not, notably, in the throes of a terrifying pandemic that could easily kill another hundred thousand people before the election.
The GOP has no plans, no coordination, nothing to offer to dying, desperate Americans except maybe hydroxychloroquine-I-mean-blood-plasma. And so, like their not-platorm, they turn to Biden, the useless sclerotic heir of the status quo who will somehow transform the United States into a communist dictatorship as soon as he is elected. They have nothing but fear and lies. It's pitiful.
Or it would be pitiful if it weren't so terrifying. GOP inadequacy was obvious in 2016, too, and Trump was elected anyway. The GOP is a party of gormless failure and hate, but many Americans like hate, and seem to like failure as well. The Republicans can't write a platform; they can't put on a convention. They can't govern a country either. They may get the chance to do that last one for another term though. It's not clear what will be left of the country if they do.
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