Illustration by Ash Ramirez of the RNC

The RNC Proved That Republicans Are Who They Have Always Been

Although the 2020 Republican National Convention (RNC) came under unprecedented circumstances, the messaging was consistent: They don't like Democrats.
September 4, 2020
5 mins read

The Republican National Convention (RNC) was, in a word, indescribable. But let’s try to break it down anyway.

All the energy was in the first night. Kimberly Guilfoyle, girlfriend of Don Jr., delivered a speech rife with screaming and extreme gesticulations. Her bewildering performance inspired the Guilfoyle Challenge: a social media trend in which people post videos of themselves imitating her wild movements.

Guilfoyle was immediately followed by Congressman Steve Scalise, who tried his hardest to make an ultimately uncompelling case for Donald Trump’s character and goodwill. In Scalise’s words, “[Trump] cares about the hard-working people that Washington left behind.” It is almost surreal that Republicans are still trying to convince normal people that the billionaire trust-fund baby from Manhattan is somehow on their side. Sadly, many have bought into the lie.

But perhaps the most reckless comments of the night came from Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. “Make no mistake: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want a Cultural Revolution,” he said, equating the Democratic ticket with late Chinese dictator Mao Zedong. “If we let them, they will turn our country into a socialist utopia,” Scott continued.

Scott’s birthday is coming up. He turns 55 on Sept. 19, and I suggest someone gift him a dictionary so he can look up what the word “utopia” means. If Scott, or someone who knows him, happens to stumble across this, allow me to clarify: “Utopia” is defined as a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government and social conditions. If Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can make that happen, that is a really good reason to vote Democratic in November. Tim Scott seems to be making his opponents’ case for them.

However untethered from reality, though, Scott’s RNC speech represents the Republicans’ 2020 rhetorical playbook. They have no positive message and have not even bothered to draft a new platform. Instead, the GOP has decided to just reuse the same platform from 2016. Rather than running on actual policy and coming up with fresh ideas, the party has spent the bulk of their time attacking an imaginary menace: the looming specter of socialism, which is apparently embodied by the Biden campaign.

Funnily enough, this disproves the case made for Biden’s electability during the Democratic primary. As a more conservative candidate, it was said that Republicans could not weaponize the scare word “socialism” against Biden in a general election as they could with Bernie Sanders. Others rightly pointed out that this Red Scare treatment would befall any Democrat. The lesson here is obvious: If you have a “D” next to your name, Republicans WILL call you a socialist — and there is nothing you can do about it.

Former Governor Nikki Haley proved this further. Although she was previously anti-Trump, the former ambassador to the United Nations used her speaking slot to warn, “Their vision for America is socialism. … Joe Biden and the socialist Left would be a disaster for our economy.” Keep in mind that this is coming from the party that oversaw the single worst GDP contraction of all-time. It is just a fact that “the economy does better under the Democrats” — and these are Trump’s words, not mine.

Haley did all right but was dealt the misfortune of appearing right before a real showstopper, making her look weak in comparison. Indeed, the true star of the first night was none other than Donald Trump Jr. Though always electric, the eldest Trump son was in rare form. He definitely brought his A-game to the RNC.

His speech was a whirlwind, covering all the hot-button topics of the day. The pandemic, Confederate statues, so-called “school choice,” trade, police brutality. What was perhaps most intriguing about the speech was how Trump Jr. attempted to flip the script on the Democrats. Invoking the specter of cancel culture, he alleged that the opposition is the true party of intolerance. “If [the Democrats] get their way, it will no longer be the ‘silent majority.’ It will be the silenced majority,” he warned.

Though clearly the most entertaining, Don Jr. was not the only Trump family member to get a slot at the convention. Following 2016’s supposed repudiation of dynastic politics, half of the RNC’s keynote speakers bore the last name Trump. Whatever independent character the conservative movement could once claim has been completely dispensed with. This is about one family and, more precisely, one particularly odious man-child. The policies are basically the same, but brand loyalty has been replaced with a particularly nasty and rather inexplicable cult of personality.

There are no remarkable takeaways here. The RNC proved that the Republicans are who they have always been. Unable to run on actual successes, they choose to engage endlessly in culture war theatrics. This sets things up nicely for the Democrats, who ought to seize this opportunity and call out the GOP for their vacuous agenda. If they do so, the chance of a Biden presidency will increase substantially.

But, for those rooting for that outcome, do not get your hopes up. Never underestimate the ability of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. After reaching its peak in late July, Biden’s lead in the betting markets has all but evaporated. This is still anybody’s race.

Elias Khoury, University of Michigan

Writer Profile

Elias Khoury

University of Michigan
Philosophy, Politics and Economics

Elias Khoury is an undergraduate junior at the University of Michigan. He's also on the editorial board of the Young Democratic Socialists of America's (YDSA) national publication, The Activist.

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