Trump looks to Republican convention for optimistic campaign reboot

“The big contrast you’ll see between the Democrats’ doom-and-gloom, Donald Trump-obsessed convention will be a convention focused on real people, their stories, how the policies of the Trump administration have lifted their lives, and then an aspirational vision toward the next four years,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in an interview Saturday.

Yet the inclusion of some speakers who gained notoriety by inflaming culture wars — coupled with Trump’s preoccupation with personal grievances, escalating warnings of a “rigged election,” demonization of Democratic nominee Joe Biden and predilection for dark imagery — threatens to inspire a jarringly contrary message.

“A convention is a bit of a Rorschach test of where the party is at any given moment. America will see, this is how the Republican Party wants to present itself,” said Russ Schriefer, a Republican strategist who orchestrated the party’s 2012 convention nominating Mitt Romney for president.

The party intends to present itself entirely in Trump’s own image, and the stakes for him could hardly be higher.

“I think we’re going to see something that is going to be very uplifting and positive, that’s what I’d like it to be,” Trump said Saturday on Fox News’s “Next Revolution.”

Trump is not the first recent incumbent to head into a convention facing a difficult reelection. In 2004, President George W. Bush was dealing with mounting opposition to the war in Iraq that threatened to take him down. In 2012, President Barack Obama was in trouble because of a sluggish economic recovery and tepid approval ratings.

But neither Bush nor Obama faced the kind of obstacles that exist for Trump. He is confronting multiple crises at home and has been running a deficit in state and national polls throughout the spring and summer. If the election were held today, Trump probably would become the first one-term president since George H.W. Bush was defeated in 1992.

Trump will open his convention just days after the Democrats completed what was widely seen as a successful four nights of virtual programming that concluded with an acceptance speech by Biden that drew high marks for both style and substance.

While the Democrats reimagined their convention for the pandemic as a completely virtual affair, the Republicans are devising a hybrid model. The GOP event will not take place in a cavernous arena as planned, but some of the marquee speeches — including Trump’s on Thursday night on the South Lawn of the White House — still are set live before hundreds of people, even at the risk of flouting public health guidelines.

Republican strategist Mike DuHaime said Trump’s top priority should be to deal with negative judgments about his handling of the pandemic.

“If you’re an incumbent, you get reelected if you do a good job and thrown out if you don’t,” DuHaime said. “So challenge one for the president is to communicate what he’s doing on coronavirus and what he’s going to do to get the country back on a normal track.”

Trump has lost credibility on the issue of the pandemic. A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in July found 64 percent of Americans saying they do not trust what Trump says about the coronavirus, with 46 percent saying they trust him “not at all.”

When speaking about the pandemic, Trump often has projected the image of a flamboyant salesman, offering claims that are exaggerated or wrong. On recent occasions when he has spoken more seriously about wearing masks and practicing social distancing, he has read from a script and, in the words of GOP strategist Michael Steel, delivers the message “with the energy of a limp windsock.”

McDaniel said the convention will present an affirmative case for Trump’s management of the pandemic and argue — in part by having live audiences for some speeches, a visual contrast with the Democrats’ attention to social distancing — that Americans can simultaneously tackle the virus and resume some aspects of their regular lives.

“They did a convention that didn’t balance health and safety with what most Americans are dealing with,” McDaniel said, pointing out that many people are back at work. “The president is going to give a different and more optimistic message, which is, we can fight this pandemic and get back to our lives — and if Joe Biden had his way, he’d keep us locked in our basements.”

Trump is expected to appear on each of the convention’s four nights. Other officials planning to speak include Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa), who is in a tough reelection campaign; Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.); House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.); South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem; and Nikki Haley, a former governor and U.N. ambassador.

Some everyday Americans also are expected to deliver remarks, including Tanya Weinreis, a Montana coffee shop owner who used a federal loan this spring to maintain her business; Carl and Marsha…

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