The GOP presents inspiring human-interest stories, and all CNN’s sourpusses can do is complain.
The second night of the Republican National Convention (RNC) seemed destined for disaster. Before it had even started, there were fires to put out. On Tuesday afternoon, scheduled speaker Mary Ann Mendoza, whose son was killed in a car accident with a drunk illegal immigrant, retweeted a thread promoting the anti-Semitic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” conspiracy theory. Unfortunately, this was not the first instance of Mendoza promoting such drivel. Thankfully, the RNC pulled Mendoza from its slate. Another speaker, Planned Parenthood clinic director turned pro-life activist Abby Johnson, had controversial comments in which she claimed police would be “smart” to be “more careful” around her biracial “brown son” than her white children reposted by Vice News. Johnson’s address went ahead as planned.
To its credit, though, the RNC — with a little help from the folks over at CNN — more than salvaged the evening. Anticipating that commentators would end the pre-convention coverage with ominous sign-offs — Jake Tapper gravely warned of “norm erosion” — the RNC began with a cheery message and full-throated endorsement from the Vice President of the Navajo Nation. That was followed by the touching story of Jon Ponder, a felon who found Christ and reformed himself, and the FBI agent who arrested him. It culminated with President Trump giving Ponder a pardon, live on air. Anderson Cooper cut in afterwards looking troubled, repeatedly calling what had just transpired “unprecedented.” Van Jones concurred and lamented that the pardon was being used for political purposes.
But the optimism conveyed by most of the speakers outshined the concerns of the pundits. A smile was glued onto Tiffany Trump, the president’s younger daughter, while she gave a speech in which she declared: “The energy of change and opportunity is with us. God has blessed us with unstoppable spirit. His spirit, the American spirit. My dad has proven to be driven by that spirit. He has demonstrated his faith in his uncompromising heart and actions. My father has made me believe that America can truly be great again.”
Vice President Pence appeared in a video that featured a young boy with muscular dystrophy who has benefited from the “right-to-try” bill that passed in 2019, an autoworker whose job was saved by Trump’s negotiations with General Motors, and a woman whose small business was kept afloat by the Paycheck Protection Program. Pence, sans suit jacket, asked them all leading questions about how the Trump administration’s agenda has helped them, nodding knowingly and sympathetically as they answered.
Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s Republican attorney general and the first black man to hold the position, gave a polished speech and, like Senator Tim Scott, invoked his ancestors who had been enslaved: pointing to himself as evidence of how far the country had come. Aside: We likely have not heard the last of Cameron, who won his race by 15 points and who will probably be the Republican favorite to run against incumbent Democratic governor Andy Beshear when Beshear’s term expires.
The cherry on top was the naturalization ceremony. No tut-tutting over norm-breaking was going to overshadow the smiles on the newly minted Americans’ faces, which were priceless. The diverse group of immigrants from India, Ghana, Lebanon, Sudan, and Bolivia were obviously overjoyed at becoming Americans in the presence of the president of the United States, and I suspect that most of those watching at home felt a similar elation.
Tapper, Anderson, and Jones are right, to a degree. That Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at the convention was atypical, but he gave a boilerplate speech and that broken custom does not strike me as one especially close to American hearts — certainly not close enough for Tapper’s dramatic declaration at the end of the speech about “another norm” being “destroyed” to resonate with the public. And yes, Trump pardoned Ponder and presided over the naturalization ceremony to benefit his reelection campaign. But I’d be willing to bet that to the average viewer, the hand-wringing at CNN over it looked petty and small compared to the grandeur of the events themselves. Politicians pull off political stunts — it’s just what they do — and for my part I was just happy to watch a couple of uplifting moments play out.
Norms are an important facet of our political system, and few people have as little regard for them as President Trump; It’s worth criticizing him for that. But by treating a speech from a political ally, a naturalization ceremony, and a well-deserved presidential pardon as downright sinister, CNN — acting as a de facto arm of the Democratic National Committee — played right into the RNC’s surprisingly deft hands on Tuesday.