GOP convention, night one: Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Trump Jr — and Trump

Tonight we get our first clue about the biggest mystery of the campaign: Can anyone’s opinion of Trump change, even just a little, after three and a half years of Trumpiness? Because he needs some minds to change, even just a little, to have a shot in November. The show begins at 8:30 ET; you can watch right here if you’re not near a TV. Read on…

Want to know what tonight’s program will look like? Well, join the club.

The majority of Republican politicians and operatives will learn about the details of this week’s convention in the same manner most Americans do — by watching it unfold on TV…

Some speakers, like Lieutenant Gov. Jeanette Nuñez of Florida, were unclear as of late last week from where they would speak — in D.C. or their home state — or the exact format of their remarks…

“There’s just been very little communication with Republican officials and their staffs,” one Republican congressional aide told POLITICO. “There doesn’t seem to be much of an organized surrogate plan. I’d be shocked if they can put together four nights of programming without a major catastrophe.”

Democrats had the advantage of throwing in the towel early on a live convention, giving them time to focus on working out the bugs of a virtual production. Republicans were stuck scrambling to go (mostly) virtual after Trump called off the live festivities that had been planned in Jacksonville due to COVID-19. The results of that hasty planning are … unpredictable. We do at least have a list of speakers, which features no fewer than six Trump family members besides the president plus Don Jr’s significant other, Kimberly Guilfoyle. If the GOP is now little more than a personality cult, it makes sense that the royal family would be featured extensively at the coronation.

That list is thin on establishment figures, as you can see. Even McConnell reportedly intended to skip the convention before the attention paid to his absence led him to change his mind. Nikki Haley will be there tonight, though, as she’s certain to run in 2024 and needs to preserve some degree of goodwill from Trumpers. She has no chance of winning populist votes in a primary but she stands a good chance of convincing those populists to support her in a general election if she manages to avoid pissing them off. That’s the Biden strategy for winning a major-party nomination and, perhaps, the presidency. Two big differences between him and her, though. One is that he had universal name recognition when he ran, making him an easy default option for voters left unimpressed by the rest of the field. The other is that he was well-matched to the moment, a perfectly generic and amiable Democrat for a party that wanted to make the election a referendum on Trump. It’s possible that the post-Trump GOP will want a younger, more traditional Republican woman of color as its nominee in 2024 and thus that Haley will be well-matched to her moment as well.

But I sure wouldn’t bet that way.

Which reminds me: Where are Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley on the list of speakers? They’re both likely to run, both will be competing for populist votes, and therefore both would want to prove themselves good MAGA soldiers by appearing at the convention. I assume they’ll both be added to the program eventually but it’s surprising that they weren’t booked from the start.

The party will show off some racial diversity tonight with Haley, Tim Scott, and congressional candidate Kim Klacik, who’s running in the special election for Maryland’s 7th District, a D+26 jurisdiction. They’re also going to try to seize an opportunity gifted to them by Democrats in appealing to working-class voters. The Democratic convention was heavy on professional politicians and light on reasons to support Biden apart from him not being Donald Trump. Republicans are planning to draw a contrast by featuring some regular joes as speakers, which is smart. They’re also likely to hammer at kitchen-table issues, hoping to appeal to voters who agree that Joe Biden is a much nicer guy than Trump but don’t see any particular reason to care:

Even if Biden emerges from the convention with a boost in the polls, his choice to focus less on economic appeals and more on sweeping themes and social issues, particularly racial justice, raises some of the same questions that surfaced after the Democrats’ last national meeting. Though Hillary Clinton’s 2016 convention drew strong reviews, it too emphasized the party’s embrace of diversity, the breadth of her coalition, and Trump’s deficiencies of character without delivering a clearly delineated economic agenda for working families. Those choices faced pointed second-guessing after Election Day, when Trump’s huge margins among non-college-educated white voters allowed him to dislodge the Rust Belt battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin from the Democrats’ “blue wall” and claim his narrow victory.

[James Carville] gave high marks to the convention’s personal introduction of Biden and its outreach to young people, but he worried that the event wasn’t following the formula Democrats used to win the House in 2018: Minimize discussion of Trump and emphasize bread-and-butter economic concerns, such as defending the Affordable Care Act and its protections for Americans with preexisting health conditions.

[U]nless Biden can win across a wide range of Sun Belt states, he’s unlikely to reach 270 Electoral College votes without improving at least somewhat among working-class white voters in the key Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And analysts have long observed that many older Latino and African American voters in particular are more motivated to turn out to the polls by concrete plans to improve their life than by broad promises of confronting discrimination.

The economic message will also be paired with an emphasis on rising violent crime, especially the intermittent riots in Chicago and the more consistent riots in Portland. Of note, via Josh Kraushaar: “A recent Pew Research Center survey found that dealing with violent crime is now the fifth-most important issue for votes, with 59 percent listing it as ‘very important’ to their vote in November. For context, it’s nearly as important to Americans as the coronavirus, which ranks fourth with 63 percent listing it as a top issue.” In short, Republicans are going to sweep aside woke Democratic claptrap and convince people that there’s only one party that understands what keeps them up at night, namely, being able to pay the rent and feeling safe in your own home.

Or rather, that’s what Republicans should be doing. It’s the rational move. Trump might get up there instead and rant for two hours about hydroxychloroquine and ballot drop boxes being infected with coronavirus. That’s what makes the GOP convention so much more intriguing than its Democratic counterpart: Anything can happen. It could be surprisingly effective, it could be a complete sh*tshow. Since it’s a Trump production, it’ll probably be both.

Speaking of Trump ranting, he’ll appear tonight in the 10 p.m. hour — and in tomorrow’s 10 p.m. hour, and Wednesday’s, and then he’ll deliver his acceptance speech on Thursday. It’s not traditional for a nominee to speak on all four nights, but hey. Here’s a Twitter widget that’ll feature live commentary from people worth following as the proceedings unfold. And of course comments are open before for your participation.

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