The first night of the Republican National Convention had it ups and downs, but there was a level of quality in the some of the speeches that would make even the most cynical conservatives (like me!) have a little faith in the future of the country.
With speeches from all over the map (like a former NFL star and a public school teacher), it’s clear that the Republican Party is trying to make the argument that America is not some sort of oppressive state, and that an America with Donald Trump in charge for four more years can only get better.
Several of the key speeches were very good and hit the right notes. The Gift of Freedom speech from Maximo Alvarez was really powerful. Andrew Pollack’s speech was emotional and felt like a gut punch from the get-go. On the other hand, a couple of speeches didn’t work, but they didn’t take away from the night.
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, though, gave what was far and away the best speech of the night. Emotional and biographical, Scott focused on the good of America, that ability to start anywhere and work your way up. In mentioning his grandfather, he gave the most powerful line of the night.
Mentioning that his grandfather had to drop out of school to work in cotton fields, Scott then noted that “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.”
One huge credit where it’s due: Not having a Trump family member cap off the night and giving it instead to Tim Scott made the ending so much more powerful. If you had flipped those two speeches, you would have lost the impact Scott made. It’s possible that Don Jr. could have gone before Nikki Haley and the presentation would have been even better, but the fact is that Scott’s speech is the speech to remember from Monday night.
Speaking of Haley, her speech was also very good, though the content was way better than the presentation. It’s difficult to present a speech meant for a crowd to the eerie silence of an empty hall, but the fact of the matter is that what she said fit the tone of the night so well, and that many people did get a good look at her as a possible contender in 2024 (for the record, they got that same good look at Tim Scott, but Haley has always been listed as a possible candidate for 2024, whereas Scott only occasionally appears on those watchlists).
If there were any mistakes that the Republicans Party should learn from right away, it’s that the Trump family needs to be used more effectively. Don Jr.’s speech coming between Haley’s and Scott’s almost dampened the momentum the night had going. Appearing a bit earlier would have helped immensely. You let a series of non-Trump, non-white male speakers be the capstone of your night and you have a far more powerful message than any night of last week’s Democratic convention.
That’s not to say his speech was bad. It’s just that, like I mentioned earlier, it didn’t fit. Had you let Maximo Alvarez, Nikki Haley, and Tim Scott be your capstone for the night, it would have been far more effective.
However, if these are the kinds of nights the Republicans are going to fire off this week, then there is a chance they can begin to turn things around. While conventions are generally little more than overblown pep rallies, we’re seeing a very clear foundation for the Trump campaign’s strategy going forward, and if they can keep him on message and go with what we saw tonight, 2020 may yet be salvageable.