By QUINN SCANLAN and KENDALL KARSON, ABC News
(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) — A confluence of external forces pulled attention away from the Republican National Convention on night three. Still, Republicans remained trained on delivering their counter message to Democrats — focusing heavily on freedom, the military, law enforcement and the need for “law and order.”
The theme of the third night of the RNC, “America: Land of Heroes,” was realized throughout a night marked by salutes to U.S. military members and veterans, which culminated with Vice President Mike Pence at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, accepting the vice presidential nomination for the second time.
While the speakers heaped praise on the president throughout the night, unlike the first two nights, Trump himself didn’t make an appearance in the programming until it was over, joining Pence on stage with the first and second ladies, as well as Medal of Honor recipients, veterans and front line workers for a rendition of the national anthem by country singer Trace Adkins.
Here are the key takeaways from the third night of the RNC:
Pence outlines second term agenda by instead defining Biden’s
Instead of directly conveying the priorities and goals of four more years of a Trump-Pence administration, the vice president chose to define what an America led by Democratic nominee Joe Biden would look like, painting a dark picture of a country with a failing economy, where rioters and violence go unchecked and where a socialist government controls Americans’ everyday life.
“On November 3rd, you need to ask yourself: Who do you trust to rebuild this economy?” Pence said. “A career politician who presided over the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, or a proven leader who created the greatest economy in the world? “
“Joe Biden would double down on the very policies that are leading to violence in America’s cities,” he continued. “The hard truth is, you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
Pence sought to instill fear about the Democratic ticket — implicitly contrasting Biden and his vice presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., with the leadership he and Trump bring to the White House.
“They believe the federal government needs to dictate how Americans live, how we should work, how we should raise our children… Their agenda is based on government control. Our agenda is based on freedom,” the vice president claimed.
Running through issue after issue, Pence made numerous unsubstantiated claims about Biden’s beliefs, like alleging he supports taxpayer-funded abortions, “right up to the moment of birth,” and that he is “for open borders.”
Referencing the argument Democrats made during their convention — that democracy itself is on the ballot in November — Pence said, “The choice in this election is whether America remains America.”
But by defining Biden’s America, the vision for a second Trump term was mostly cast as simply the opposite of Biden’s, and concrete policy goals they’d hope to accomplish were left to the wayside, as they also were in the nearly 50-bullet point wish list released by the campaign ahead of the convention.
Racial injustice pushed aside for law and order
Before the speakers stepped onto the stage Wednesday night, the external forces dominating the day — from Hurricane Laura, the raging Category 4 storm set to batter Texas and Louisiana, to the NBA’s strike — towered over the celebration, and yet, mention of them was nearly absent from the program.
In Wisconsin, the curfew was setting in just before the third night of the convention kicked off: a stark reminder of the violence of the night before, when a white 17-year-old allegedly shot at least three people, killing two of them, during protests in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year old Black man struck seven times by a white Kenosha police officer.
The GOP’s event was also overshadowed by an unprecedented boycott by players in the NBA, WNBA and MLB, who refused to show up for their matches Wednesday to stand in support of the activists fighting for racial justice.
But the Republican convention marched on, with the night’s roster leaving out the debate on race and instead turning to the need for policing.
Trump has long wanted an election revolving around law and order. It’s been a cornerstone of his campaign stump — and one that has consumed his focus as protests spread across the country over racial inequality in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis.
The demonstrations, even those ongoing in Kenosha, Wisconsin, were invoked at the convention only in the thematic frame of “law and order” — with the lineup of speakers touting a narrative that casts the president as an answer to the unrest, and Democrats as spurring the radicalism.
“If we continue down the path taken by the Democrats and their radical supporters — from Seattle and Portland to Washington and New York — Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs. The violence is rampant. There’s looting, chaos, destruction and murder,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said. “People that can afford to flee have fled. But the people that can’t — good, hard-working Americans — are left to fend for themselves.”
Pence, the only live speaker of the night, mentioned only Kenosha, but never Blake’s name nor the fight for racial justice.
He sought to argue that defending law enforcement and supporting Black communities are not mutually exclusive. But his claim appears to have sidestepped the full picture, particularly when majorities of both Black and white Americans believe that Black people are treated less fairly than whites when it comes to policing and the criminal justice system, according to Pew Research.
“We will have law and order on the streets of America,” he said. “President Trump and I know the men and women that put on the uniform of law enforcement are the best of us. They put their lives on the line every day.”
“The American people know we don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement and standing with African American neighbors to improve the quality of their lives… and from the first days of this administration, we’ve done both, and we will keep doing both for four more years,” he added.
Under Trump, the common man is America’s hero
Over the course of three days, Republicans put forward an electoral argument that focused on someone other than Trump: the little guy.
On Wednesday night, speaker after speaker sought to make the case that only under this president is the “common American” the hero.
“All over our country, everyday heroes serve and sacrifice for the greater good. Farmers, truckers, craftsmen — the heroes who keep our country running,” Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., said. “And President Trump fights for them every day… For our nation to emerge even stronger, more prosperous, freer and more secure than ever, to make our country greater than ever before, we must reelect President Trump.”
“History chooses its heroes for the time in which they live,” Noem said. “There is another American hero to be recognized. That is the common American. This is who President Trump is fighting for. He’s fighting for you.”
None missed the opportunity to cast Trump as the champion of the everyday man and woman — whom they claimed are ignored or dismissed by the left and the elite.
“America is a nation of heroes. In times of difficulty, we’re reminded that they’re all around us,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said. “Leftists try to turn them into villains. They try to ‘cancel’ them. But I’m here to tell you that these heroes can’t be cancelled… President Trump has stood up for our heroes every day.”
This message was never more on display than when a Minnesota man, a symbol of the forgotten worker, aimed to offer the clearest contrast between the Republican nominee and his chief rival, Biden.
“I represent loggers and truckers in Minnesota, but I also represent a way of life,” Scott Dane, the executive director of the Associated Contract Loggers & Truckers of Minnesota, said. “The last time Joe Biden was in the White House, Minnesota lost over half of its mills, thousands of jobs and experienced nearly a decade of decline… Under Obama-Biden, radical environmentalists were allowed to kill the forests.”
“Under President Trump, we’ve seen a new recognition of the value of forest management in reducing wildfires,” Dane continued.
Through telling of personal anecdotes, Trump is cast as a champion for women
Following up on a video featured Tuesday night, on the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment, women who’ve worked in the Trump administration or for the president’s campaign used their speaking slots Wednesday to share personal moments with the president that, to them, exemplify how he’s an ardent supporter of women.
Beginning her remarks by recognizing the historic day, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, the woman who managed the final four months of Trump’s 2016 campaign, heralded the president as a boss who has “for decades… elevated women.”
“A woman in a leadership role can still seem novel. Not so for President Trump… He confides in and consults us, respects our opinions, and insists that we are on equal footing with the men,” Conway said. “President Trump helped me shatter a barrier in the world of politics by empowering me to manage his campaign to its successful conclusion.”
The president’s former campaign press secretary and current White House press secretary, Kayliegh McEnany, relayed how the president reached out to comfort her after she had a preventative mastectomy in May 2018. Eight women in McEnany’s family, including her mother, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, leading her to be tested for the BRCA-2 genetic mutation. She found out she was positive at just 21 years old.
“During one of my most difficult times, I expected to have the support of my family, but I had more support than I knew,” she said, adding that the president’s daughter, Ivanka, was one of the first people who called her after her surgery. “As I recovered, my phone rang again. I was blown away. Here was the leader of the free world, caring about my circumstance.”
And unlike the speeches from the president’s children, three of them who’ve already spoken at the convention, Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law and a senior adviser to his campaign, shared intimate details about her relationship with the president’s family.
“Any preconceived notion I had of this family disappeared immediately [upon meeting them],” she said. “They were warm and caring. They were hard workers. And they were down to Earth. They reminded me of my own family — they made me feel like I was home.”
She went on to echo Conway, noting the “countless women executives who thrived” at the Trump Organization, which her husband is now the executive vice president of.
“Gender didn’t matter, what mattered was the ability to get the job done,” she said. “I learned this directly when, in 2016, my father-in-law asked me to help him win my cherished home state — and my daughter’s namesake — North Carolina. Though I had no political experience, he believed in me. He knew I was capable, even if I didn’t.”
Their experiences were in stark contrast to the “fact sheet” about how the president “has failed American women” that Biden’s campaign blasted out to reporters Wednesday morning, pointing to the Trump administration revoking the Obama-era Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order and changing the rules regarding how colleges are to conduct sexual harassment and assault investigations as evidence of how Trump “has relentlessly worked against women’s interests.”
Trump, the defender of America’s military, who challenged conventional foreign policy thinking
Throughout the night, speakers talked up Trump as the ultimate defender of America’s interests and rebuilder of its military. They also cast him as a cautious commander-in-chief, one who only acts militarily in the most demanding of moments.
“Over the past three and a half years, I have witnessed every major foreign policy and national security decision by the president,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, Pence’s current national security adviser. “I saw only one agenda and one guiding question, when tough calls had to be made: Is this decision right for America?”
Kellogg said “decades of failed foreign policy had crippled” the country prior to Trump taking office, including the vice presidential tenure of Biden, who’s touted his foreign policy credentials as a reason to vote for him in November.
“President Trump has reversed the decline of our military and restructured our national security strategy,” Kellogg said. “But make no mistake, President Trump is no hawk. He wisely wields the sword when required, but believes in seeking peace instead of perpetual conflict.”
Former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell spoke about watching Trump during the crowded Republican primary debates during the 2016 campaign and feeling like he had the guts to say what many Americans felt, 14 years after the Afghanistan, and 12 years after the Iraq wars began.
“No candidate could bring themselves to admit that something had gone badly wrong with American foreign policy,” Grenell, who also served as the ambassador to Germany, said. “Except for one: Donald Trump. He called America’s endless wars what they were: A disaster.”
Grenell went on to portray Biden — whose late son, Beau, served in the Delaware National Guard and deployed to Iraq in 2009 — as a commander-in-chief who would put other countries’ interests ahead of America’s.
“A return to the Biden way of thinking means America gives the radical terrorist regime in Tehran a planeload of cash in the middle of the night,” Grenell said.
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