Turbulent reality is clashing with the smooth, steady image Republicans are hoping to paint of U.S. President Donald Trump and his leadership on the third night of the party’s convention.
A potentially catastrophic hurricane is bearing down on the Gulf Coast, wildfires are ravaging huge areas of California, protests are growing in Wisconsin after the shooting of a Black man by police — and the still-raging coronavirus pandemic is killing more than 1,000 Americans a day.
Adding still another controversial element, late Wednesday pro basketball postponed three games after the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for an NBA playoff game because of Jacob Blake’s shooting. That was a few hours before Vice-President Mike Pence was to speak from Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, where an 1814 battle inspired the U.S. national anthem. Trump has strongly criticized athletes who kneel rather than stand during the anthem in protest of racial injustice.
The historic convergence of health, economic, environmental and social emergencies is only increasing the pressure on Trump, as he looks to reshape the contours of his lagging campaign against former vice-president Joe Biden with election day just 10 weeks off and early voting beginning much sooner.
The Republicans’ convention response to those growing challenges has been uneven. The opening nights featured virtually no reference to the hurricane or wildfires. The lineup has included speakers who have been at odds with the Black Lives Matter movement, including a St. Louis couple who brandished guns and the Kentucky attorney general who has not yet filed charges in the death of a woman killed by police.
With most of Wednesday night’s speakers pre-recorded, only Pence is expected to address the unrest in Wisconsin.
An early speaker Wednesday night reflected on political relevance in the cultural divisions surrounding the national reckoning over racial injustice.
“From Seattle and Portland to Washington and New York, Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs,” said South Dakota Gov Kristi Noem. “People that can afford to flee have fled. But the people that can’t — good, hard-working Americans —are left to fend for themselves.”
Trump turned to Twitter on Wednesday to say his administration was engaged with state and local officials in areas in Hurricane Laura’s path. The storm was forecast to make landfall along the Louisiana-Texas border shortly after Pence’s keynote address Wednesday night.
High-profile female supporters
Two of Trump’s most high-profile female aides — departing counselor Kellyanne Conway, the manager of Trump’s 2016 general election campaign, and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany — both delivered speeches aimed at softening Trump’s image and reinforcing his support for women.
McEnany, who has a nine-month-old child, said, “I want my daughter to grow up in President Donald Trump’s America.”
And Conway, who once extolled the virtues of “alternative facts” to support her case, spoke of “everyday heroes” Wednesday night. But she also said Trump has worked to help those most in need in the United States, and to support and elevate women.
“He has elevated women to senior positions in business and in government. He confides in and consults us, respects our opinions, and insists that we are on equal footing with the men.”
WATCH | Conway delivers one last speech as part of Trump’s White House:
Appeal to Black voters
Several speakers also sought to paint Trump as the champion for African Americans, sometimes making unsubstantiated accusations against Biden.
A Black conservative running for a Utah congressional seat said the U.S. needs more leaders like Trump who stand by their principles, won’t compromise and who “will stand up to the lawlessness supported by the radical left.”
Burgess Owens decried civil unrest that’s followed some racial injustice protests and said the country is at a crossroads.
“Mobs torch our cities while popular members of Congress promote the same socialism my father fought against in World War II,” he said.
Jack Brewer, a former professional football player and a member of Black Voices for Trump,said that not liking Trump’s tone was not enough to merit a vote for his Democratic rival.
“So because you have an issue with President Trump’s tone, you’re going to allow Biden and [running mate Kamala] Harris to deny our under-served Black and brown children school choice?” said Brewer.
NPR reported late Tuesday that Brewer had been charged with insider trading by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this month. Earlier, the campaign would not say definitively whether he would speak
Adding to the sense of convention uncertainty, another speaker was abruptly pulled from the lineup. The Trump campaign confirmed that Robert Unanue, the president and CEO of Goya Foods, would not be speaking Wednesday night, citing a “logistical problem.” Unanue’s appearance at the White House earlier this month and his praise of Trump sparked a boycott of his company’s products.
Organizers on Tuesday had pulled another featured speaker, Mary Ann Mendoza, after she directed her Twitter followers to a series of anti-Semitic, conspiratorial messages hours before her pre-recorded segment was to air.
The night’s lineup is expected to include Clarence Henderson — who participated in the 1960 Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins — for what Trump’s team said would be a discussion of “peaceful protest.”
Law and order
Convention speakers so far have largely stuck to Trump’s law-and-order message, warning that electing Biden would lead to violence in American cities spilling into the suburbs, a message with racist undertones. Trump on Wednesday tweeted about sending federal agents to Kenosha to help quell unrest, and the Justice Department said it was sending in the FBI and federal marshals.
Michael McHale, the president of the National Association of Police Organizations, told the convention: “The violence we are seeing in these and other cities isn’t happening by chance; it’s the direct result of elected leaders refusing to allow law enforcement to protect our communities.”
Pence is expected to spend much of his speech detailing the administration’s record on the economy and foreign policy, capping a lineup that would “showcase American heroes” and their stories, organizers said.