RNC Night 2: Watch the Moments That Mattered

Adam: Jenny, I am exhausted. That was an overwhelming crush of stuff. It was like a mash-up of a reality show, a nonstop television advertisement and a convention. The stirring patriotic images, the rousing music, the heartfelt tributes and, of course, the slashing attacks. I’ve never seen so much of the inside of the White House. I feel like I traveled from Washington to Israel and back again in the course of two hours. Well, I guess we did.

Most striking was how President Trump completely commandeered the White House — and the powers of the presidency — and put them to the service of his re-election campaign. He led a naturalization ceremony on the first floor of the White House. He pardoned Jon Ponder, a convicted bank robber who started a nonprofit to help former inmates. His wife, Melania Trump, spoke in the Rose Garden. I was left with one thought: What on earth will they do on Night 3?

Jenny: I found myself searching for any historical analogy, wondering if I might have missed something. But no. There really isn’t another example of a president using the White House in such an obviously political way. He simply erased any line that might exist between government and politics. Even before tonight unfolded, there were questions whether the campaigning on government property violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits using federal posts for politics. Even the music — remember the pop hits Democrats featured last week? None of that tonight, replaced by instrumentals meant to evoke uniquely presidential power.

Adam: Many government watchdogs have objected to what seems to be an egregious case of improper use of governmental resources to support a campaign. I’m not sure whether that hurts Mr. Trump in any way with voters. We’ll see. But the glitz and gimmicks (and the boundary breaking) should not come as a surprise for anyone who has watched him over the years, as a New York City developer, reality show host and now president of the United States.

Jenny: Maybe. But when I saw five immigrants lined up in the White House while Mr. Trump walked in to “Hail to the Chief,” I wondered, who were those people being naturalized and how were they chosen? Of course, the president has railed against illegal immigration — but he has also made legal immigration enormously more difficult. There are large backlogs of people who have waited more than a decade for citizenship that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Adam: And symbolism aside, there was another night of brutal attacks on Joseph R. Biden Jr., to portray him as a career politician controlled by the far left. Abortion, taxes, Hunter Biden, China, “environmental extremists” — the hits kept coming, in a clear bid to energize the Republican base.

Campaigns always exaggerate, but I think we should take note that many speakers completely misrepresented Mr. Biden’s positions in service of trying to make the case for Mr. Trump. To offer one example, Mr. Biden has explicitly said he opposes defunding the police, notwithstanding what Eric Trump said.

Jenny: Absolutely. There were dozens of mentions of communism and socialism — which Mr. Biden is nowhere near embracing. And, worth noting, very little talk of the tens of thousands who have died from the coronavirus (which several speakers referred to as the “Chinese virus”) or the millions who have lost their jobs in the last six months. It was a night predicated on remembering the country before the pandemic.

Jenny: We heard a lot about God and faith tonight. White evangelicals, of course, remain some of the president’s most steadfast supporters. We heard from Cissie Graham Lynch, a granddaughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, the famed preacher. (In case you’ve forgotten: Late last year the editor of Christianity Today, which Mr. Graham founded, published a blistering essay calling for Mr. Trump’s removal from the White House.) We also heard from many other speakers who implicitly suggested that Mr. Trump is uniquely chosen to expand faith and religion in the country.

Adam: Maybe even more than implicitly. That was done in direct ways — the repeated invocations of God — and in less direct ways, such as when Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, talked (from Jerusalem!) about Mr. Trump having moved the Israeli Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an important goal for evangelicals. There was much discussion of abortion rights, a point of difference between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump. Religion has not been a major part of the president’s life, though I’m not sure that would be clear to anyone watching Night 2 of the convention. “God has blessed us,” his daughter Tiffany said in her speech.

Jenny: When Melania Trump spoke, she claimed that her husband was the first to speak about religious freedom at the United Nations. But Barack Obama did so, too, as had other presidents before him.

Adam: The timing of this was somewhat awkward: On the same day, Jerry Falwell Jr., one of Mr. Trump’s top evangelical supporters, resigned as president and chancellor of Liberty University. In a sex scandal.

Adam: One of the dominant themes of the night was Mr. Trump’s family: His wife, Melania, and two of his children, Tiffany and Eric, spoke. (Another son, Donald Jr., spoke yesterday.) The first lady spoke at a bells-and-whistles ceremony in the newly refurbished White House Rose Garden — which she refurbished — in front of an invited audience. (There were not many masks visible, if you were wondering.) It ended with Mr. Trump getting up, gazing at his wife and kissing her in front of the cameras as they exited stage right for the White House.

This was clearly an effort to humanize the president. Donald Trump Jr. was not effusive in talking about his father on Monday, but Eric and Tiffany Trump certainly were. I don’t think most Americans have seen that. Do you think it worked?

Jenny: Maybe, if we judge by exposure, but we didn’t hear any warm and fuzzy stories. Most Americans have rarely seen Tiffany, who spoke about graduating from law school this year in an I-feel-your-pain speech. A lot of it seemed to be about relating to regular people (perhaps a stretch for the family members of a self-proclaimed billionaire?). Melania talked about being just another mom struggling with how to teach her son about technology and bullying (but didn’t mention her husband’s penchant for aggressive tweeting). And Eric ended his speech with an impassioned declaration of adoration for his father. But in some ways, it was an acknowledgment of one of the president’s political weaknesses: an image of being aloof and uncaring.

Adam: Be best! The speech from Donald Trump Jr. seemed more about Mr. Biden than his father (and keep in mind, he was thinking of his own political career as he presented himself to this Republican audience as the heir to the Trump political dynasty). The other children seemed to mix attacks on Democrats with love for their father.

Jenny: That’s right. Eric and Tiffany Trump delivered the same kind of message about a looming dystopia under a Democratic administration, while the first lady focused on empathy (one of Mr. Biden’s primary selling points). Mrs. Trump, we should note, probably spoke more about the impact of the coronavirus than all the other speakers combined.

Adam: You know what was striking about seeing Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky getting a spot on the convention stage (or whatever you want to call it)? It was a reminder of how few elected Republican leaders we have seen so far in this convention. I don’t think it’s a deliberate strategic exercise; instead, it is a reminder of how the Republican Party has been completely taken over by President Trump.

Jenny: Didn’t Mr. Paul criticize Mr. Trump once or twice, way back when? I seem to recall the phrase “delusional narcissist and orange-faced windbag,” along with “fake conservative” and “bully.” Oh, but that was 2016, when Mr. Paul was trying to make his own way to the White House. Tonight, it was: “When I first met him, I recall being struck by how down to earth he was. He seemed like a normal guy.”

Adam: Mr. Paul is one of the best examples of how Mr. Trump has vanquished his Republican enemies. As you noted, he was once one of Mr. Trump’s harshest critics. But he was all roses and wine tonight. And he did what the president wanted: He carried the brunt of the attacks against Mr. Biden. I think it’s fair to say that he has cemented his position in the Trump empire (as much as anyone is able to do that). But one word did not cross his lips. Can you guess what it is?

Jenny: Pandemic?

Adam. Close: Covid-19. And it’s particularly noteworthy because Mr. Paul learned he had the disease a little while back. I thought there was a chance he might talk about his experience and how he recovered, but I guess not. It looks like Monday was Covid night.

Jenny: Again, tell me if I slept through political history. But have we ever had a panoramic view of Jerusalem during a political convention? Or a sitting secretary of state speaking? Both?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the opportunity to boast about the Trump administration’s decision to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which was celebrated in the evangelical community. So we have a twofer: the erasing of government and political boundaries and a doubling down on religious faith as a voting imperative.

Adam: Plus those nice views of the Holy City at dusk (or dawn?). On a night of line-crossing, that might have been — well, no. I don’t think anything takes the cake. But it was shocking. I’m looking at it and trying to imagine Henry Kissinger agreeing to that? James Baker? Thomas Jefferson? OK, I’ll stop.

And with that, good night.