Welcome to Opinion’s commentary for the last night of the Republican National Convention. In this special feature, Times Opinion writers rank the evening on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 means the night was a disaster for Republicans; 10 means it could lead to a big polling bump for the Trump-Pence ticket. Here’s what our columnists and contributors thought of the event, which featured Ivanka Trump and President Trump himself.
Wajahat Ali Standing in front of the White House, Trump said, “We have pioneered fatality rates.” It was the best moment from a long (oh so long) night of fear-mongering propaganda because it was one of the few moments of pure, unvarnished honesty. Granted, it was unintentional.
Jamelle Bouie Alice Marie Johnson’s speech on behalf of criminal justice reform was the one redeeming thing in this entire display. Sincere and heartfelt, she brought a welcome touch of the real to these proceedings.
Linda Chavez In a commercial for the antipsychotic medication Fanapt during Tucker Carlson’s hour of convention coverage, a young woman living with schizophrenia said, “I used to hear these terrible voices.” After four nights listening to Trump’s G.O.P., wouldn’t it be great to have a pill that could make those voices just go away?
Gail Collins Melania’s dress.
Ross Douthat All week, the convention’s ordinary American speakers outclassed the politicians, and tonight was no exception: The most memorable address by far belonged to Ann Dorn, the widow of a retired police chief slain during riots in St. Louis earlier this year. Her remarks were personally moving and morally well-balanced, and she humanized the collateral damage of civil disorder in a way that heavy-breathing rhetoric from figures like Rudy Giuliani didn’t. Dorn was a reminder of a core truth beneath the law-and-order blather: Protests without peace can exact a dreadful human cost.
Michelle Goldberg When Ivanka walked by Melania, and Melania’s beaming smile seemed to curdle into a look of pure hatred as soon as Ivanka had passed.
Nicole Hemmer Alice Johnson. In 2018, Trump commuted her excessive prison sentence for a nonviolent drug offense. Throughout his first term, Trump has corrupted the clemency process, doling out pardons and commutations to loyalists and accomplices. But this one he got right.
Nicholas Kristof There wasn’t one.
Matt Labash After sitting through so many also-ran Trump children (Eric, Gummo, Zeppo), it was nice to finally be treated to an A-lister: Ivanka, whose chyron might as well have read, “The Real First Lady.” She was resplendent in outlaw black, poised and charming, while addressing an audience of maskless super-spreaders on the White House lawn. Trump once said of her, “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” What bearing does that have on the R.N.C.? None, that I can think of. It was just so creepy, I thought I’d repeat it.
Liz Mair Tie between Alice Johnson’s extremely heartfelt, sincere, moving speech and Ivanka’s speech, which was borderline fraudulent and presented the president in a largely false manner but made him sound awesome for anyone who missed the past five years. Alice Johnson highlighted one thing, criminal justice reform, that Trump genuinely does deserve credit for.
Daniel McCarthy President Trump had supreme confidence and good lines, including when he touted having done more for African-Americans in three years — with criminal justice reform and record-low unemployment — than Joe Biden had achieved in 47 years. The president has taken the offense in defining the race.
Melanye Price I’m glad Alice Johnson is free. More people with unfair sentences should have the same opportunity regardless of whether they know a celebrity who knows the president. Her story is heartwarming but not a substitute for humane and just changes in the criminal justice system.
Bret Stephens Two of them: Ann Dorn, widow of the slain retired St. Louis police captain, recounting her late husband’s life and terrible death at the hands of a looter. And Alice Johnson, describing her release from prison thanks to a Trump commutation. Both speeches blazed with undeniable moral urgency.
Mimi Swartz People who tuned into MSNBC could see that medical expert Vin Gupta’s head did not explode despite four solid nights of misinformation about the coronavirus.
Héctor Tobar It’s a principle of effective storytelling that concrete details immerse a reader or viewer in the world a storyteller creates. Several speakers have offered real-life anecdotes that spoke to the president’s behind-the-scenes humanity. But the persistent, constant attacks on Joe Biden (which took up infinitely more airtime) relied on abstractions: “socialist,” “radical leftist.” Can insults win the day again for Donald Trump? We’ll see.
Peter Wehner Alice Johnson. She’s now an ordained minister; her speech was personal and at points inspiring. Her faith not only sustained her; it seems to have transformed her life. Ms. Johnson said we shouldn’t be defined by our worst moment, and she won’t be.
Will Wilkinson Alice Johnson was a ray of light and hope in the lurid dark of the final night. She wouldn’t have been there if Kim Kardashian West hadn’t lobbied for her, or if Joe Biden hadn’t borne some attenuated responsibility for her harsh sentence, but I’ll take it.
Wajahat Ali With a straight face, Trump said he can modestly say he had done more for Black people than any other president since Lincoln. He said this after an entire evening of Republican speakers bashed Black Lives Matter, their supporters and millions of demonstrators who protested against police brutality. He said this as a birther. He said this as one of his supporters just killed two people in Kenosha and overnight became a right-wing hero.
Jamelle Bouie Trump’s acceptance speech was long and intolerably boring, but what was offensive was the entire display in front of the White House. It was corrupt, but more than that it was a statement of contempt for the basic republican principle that the people are sovereign, not the leader they elect. The unmistakable message sent by erecting MAGA banners in front of the White House is that the government is Trump, and Trump is the government. For all the talk of “heritage” and “history” from this president and his allies, this is what it looks like to attack our founding values.
Linda Chavez It was bad enough that Trump commandeered the White House for a what looked like a super-spreader party. His speech was not that of a successful incumbent, but a scared underdog whose only hope is to persuade voters the Democrats are socialists who want to burn down the country. Let’s pray none of the maskless guests spread Covid-19 through the crowd.
Gail Collins Rudy Giuliani — like being stuck with your cranky Uncle Fred at the end of a really long cocktail party.
Ross Douthat The inability of any speaker, civilian or politician, to resolve the tension between the usual incumbent claims that Things Have Never Been Better and the grim reality of the Covid-19 death rate and the unemployment rate. There were other tensions — blaming Biden for being too tough on crime in the 1990s and blaming him for being too lax on crime now; claiming Americans won’t be safe in Biden’s presidency by citing trends that have worsened under Trump. But the basic problem for this convention is that the Republicans were trying to sell an incumbent administration that failed to prevent a continuing crisis — evident in the very design of the convention itself — and nobody tonight, up to Trump himself, had any rhetorical solution save evasion.
Michelle Goldberg Trump’s speech was demagogic and full of filthy lies but at least it was extremely boring.
Nicole Hemmer With more than a thousand maskless people packed tightly on the South Lawn, Trump staged a campaign rally at the White House — a violation of both norms and possibly law. It’s the perfect encapsulation of his presidency: obscene and corrupt, with little regard for human life.
Nicholas Kristof Rudy Giuliani was shameless in fear-mongering, painting New York City as a dangerous nightmare of Democratic rule. In fact, New York City has seen just over one murder a day on average so far this year; in the last two years of Giuliani’s term as mayor, New York City’s murder rate was much higher than it is now.
Matt Labash Was wrestling over who should get my dry-cleaning bill after hearing so much ridiculousness that I kept spitting bourbon through my nose, thus ruining my MAGA sweater. But the prize goes to Dan Scavino, Trump’s former golf caddy and current social media director, who had the cojones to actually say, “I wish you could be at [Trump’s] side with me to see his endless kindness to everyone he meets.” This, of the guy who actually tweeted: “Happy Thanksgiving to all — even the haters and losers!” Tonight’s R.N.C. prom theme was “America, Land of Greatness.” Good thing it wasn’t “Land of Self-Awareness.”
Liz Mair Ivanka taking the stage with her father, and Melania trying to greet her with a smile, but then immediately looking freaked out and very much not pleased to see her daughter-in-law. Weird family vibes that the rest of the country didn’t really need to be involved in.
Daniel McCarthy Mitch McConnell had to be included in the convention, but he didn’t have to go on the final night, when his dryness would be conspicuous. He was a reminder of how uninspiring the G.O.P. was before Trump.
Melanye Price Trump saying that electing Joe Biden will give us health problems including heart attacks when he has failed to take any responsibility for the worst public health crisis in American history. It was particularly vulgar at an event on the White House lawn with unmasked attendees who were not socially distancing.
Bret Stephens Ivanka Trump. Yes, her speech was polished and effective and maybe she’ll be the next governor of Florida. Till then, who elected her viceroy of these colonies?
Mimi Swartz Trump claiming that he’s done more for Black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln.
Héctor Tobar Satirists, comedians and surrealist poets all rejoiced at the absurd tableau of Trump’s closing speech: a generalissimo with a comb-over, hovering over an audience of sycophants who were so deeply enthralled by his demagogy, they risked infection by a deadly virus to bask in his presence. I never imagined I’d see the White House this sullied by the weirdness of a cult of personality: sad.
Peter Wehner Rudy Giuliani. He started the speech coiled with anger; by the end, he was uncoiled and enraged — sputtering, yelling into an empty auditorium, his voice cracking, his glasses slipping off his nose. Once “America’s Mayor,” Giuliani long ago became a sad figure; he’s now a pathetic one.
Will Wilkinson Trump’s use of the White House as a political prop to declare “l’état, c’est moi” — to undermine the distinctions between state and party, office and occupant — is a shocking betrayal of our nation’s republican ideals. It was a crime against the meaning of America far greater than if he had ripped the flags gaudily arrayed around him from their poles, tossed them in a heap and burned them in a towering bonfire. Trump also betrayed his country by packing a crowd of partisans, maskless and undistanced, into the South Lawn. “Four more years,” they chanted. Thanks to Trump’s failure, thousands of Americans won’t be getting even one more year.
What Else Mattered
Wajahat Ali Consistency should matter. Trump and Republicans spent the night painting a picture of America as a violent, dangerous hellscape where rioters and looters have taken control. Then Trump bragged and lied about all of his accomplishments in making this country great. That’s not really an effective message for an incumbent, who’s been the leader of the country for four years. Trump basically made the case to vote for Biden.
Jamelle Bouie What else mattered: Trump is the unambiguous underdog in this election. His tasks is to regain just enough lost ground to eke out an Electoral College victory. This speech was an opportunity to do just that, and he failed. If you were on the fence about Trump, nothing in this rote, laundry list of a speech will likely assuage your concerns. Trump could have reintroduced himself to the public, he could have shown his commitment to solving problems like the deadly pandemic killing a thousand Americans each day. He did neither, wasting an important chance to shift the ground of the campaign.
Linda Chavez Using the White House as a backdrop for a political convention was a travesty, but so was filling the audience (amid a pandemic) with federal workers like the I.C.E. agents the president pointed to during the speech. The White House should not be a prop for a reality show president.
Gail Collins Trump announced his candidacy in an inappropriate place (White House lawn) to an audience that was way too squished for coronavirus summer. That was actually the only exciting part.
Ross Douthat Well, the president gave a speech. It previewed some plausible lines of attack against Biden for the fall; it cited some genuine achievements; it had some predictable falsehoods and exaggerations … but mostly it just went on forever, in that singsong that Trump falls into when he’s reading a teleprompter and finds the prepared text a little dull. Biden’s speech a week ago was tighter and better; this one was by turns OK and tedious, neither a hectoring authoritarian balcony performance nor a successful populist stemwinder. Overall the Republican convention was a more impressive piece of entertainment than what the Democrats put together, but it ended with a fizzle and a yawn.
Michelle Goldberg The night Donald Trump was elected, Rachel Maddow told her shellshocked audience, “You’re not dead and you haven’t gone to hell.” Rarely have I been less sure. To watch this hateful huckster brand the White House with banners bearing his name, turning it into a stage set for American caudillismo, was a low point in the history of the presidency. It was like something out of “The Man In The High Castle.” It was a defilement.
Nicole Hemmer Tonight revealed the central contradiction of Trump’s campaign. After insisting Trump’s presidency has been the most successful in history, speakers warned the nation was cracking apart, wracked by chaos and lawlessness. Even if you don’t think that’s Trump’s fault (which: really?), he neither prevented nor fixed it. Not a great argument for a second term.
Nicholas Kristof With Covid-19 recently claiming about one American life every 80 seconds, President Trump should be modeling social distancing and the wearing of masks. Instead, masks were barely visible and chairs were close, spreading the worst kind of public health messaging to the American public.
Matt Labash The R.N.C. was as dispiriting as the D.N.C. At a time of multiple crises, when we most need good, honest leadership, we instead get relentless dishonesty. Democrats lie about “peaceful protests,” as cities are torched and ransacked. Republicans lie about Covid-19, a virus we didn’t even know existed 10 months ago, but which is now our third-leading killer, having taken nearly 185,000 American lives. These are the choices, folks: bunco men vs. flim-flammers. Bloods vs. Crips, engaged in gang warfare for its own sake. I, for one, will be voting my conscience, which dictates that I can’t vote. Not this cycle. Why reward the bastards?
Liz Mair Tom Cotton’s speech was better than those from other potential 2024 contenders, including Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo, but his delivery was far worse, more stilted and inauthentic sounding than what we got from Tim Scott and, yes, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. He sounded like a bog-standard career politician in a world where people have gotten used to someone leading the G.O.P. who sounds about as far away from that as is possible.
Daniel McCarthy The night seemed too rote, too safe too often, with good messages deflated by lackluster or past-their-prime messengers like Rudy Giuliani.
Melanye Price It’s not clear yet whether they will pick up new supporters, but the Republicans did an excellent job of reminding supporters what’s at stake in this fictional America, clarifying whom they should view as the enemy and fomenting hostility toward people who are different or just simply disagree with them.
Bret Stephens Trump’s long speech, often demagogic and nasty, was also probably the most politically effective of his presidency. Biden needs to up his game, a lot, or he’s going to be this year’s version of other Senate war horses turned failed presidential candidates: John McCain, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale, George McGovern and John Kerry.
Mimi Swartz Another night of mass-spreading mendacity. Tom Cotton accuses Joe Biden of coddling dictators. Rudy Giuliani paints New York City as a chaotic, violent dystopia. Ivanka Trump says her dad is a champion of women and children. The president promises to end anarchy. Democrats who spent the last four nights watching Netflix aren’t ready for what’s coming.
Héctor Tobar In 2016, Trump’s insurgent candidacy resonated with voters in “heartland” communities who felt unseen by the political establishment. This year, I spent the four days of the Republican convention driving across “flyover” America. I sensed a Trump fatigue setting in. The president’s meanspirited reality show hasn’t delivered the promised greatness — no matter how many convention speakers said it did.
Peter Wehner The Trump campaign has settled on its theme, which is as subtle as a jackhammer. Trump is all that stands between “the forgotten man” and carnage: death, darkness, violence, riots, anarchy, mayhem, cultural revolution, the death of God. Democrats may be infuriated by this line of attack, but they’d be fools to ignore the danger it poses to them. The through line of this week was lies, the bolder the better. The purpose is to disorient Americans. Trump can win only if Americans enter his hall of mirrors. An awful lot hinges on them declining the offer.
Will Wilkinson The Republican Party is all-in on the message that rioting, looting and violence have broken out in Democratic cities across the country on Donald Trump’s watch, and he has been unable to do anything to rein it in … which is why Americans won’t be safe if the other guy is elected. This is an incoherent position. But once you dial into Trump’s authoritarian frequency, you grasp that the supposed root of the violent urban disorder of Republican fever dreams is that Democrats are allowed to have political authority at all. If Trump is re-elected, he might put an end to the perils of two-party rule for good.
About the authors
Jamelle Bouie, Gail Collins, Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg, Nicholas Kristof and Bret Stephens are Times columnists.
Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) is a playwright, lawyer and contributing opinion writer.
Linda Chavez, a former Reagan White House director of public liaison, is a political commentator.
Nicole Hemmer (@pastpunditry) is an associate research scholar at Columbia University and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.”
Matt Labash, a former national correspondent at The Weekly Standard, is the author of “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader.”
Liz Mair (@LizMair), a strategist for campaigns by Scott Walker, Roy Blunt, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry, is the founder and president of Mair Strategies.
Melanye Price (@ProfMTP), a professor of political science at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, is the author, most recently, of “The Race Whisperer: Barack Obama and the Political Uses of Race.”
Mimi Swartz (@mimiswartz), an executive editor at Texas Monthly, is a contributing opinion writer.
Héctor Tobar (@TobarWriter), an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, is the author of “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free” and a contributing opinion writer.
Peter Wehner (@Peter_Wehner), a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who served in the previous three Republican administrations, is a contributing opinion writer and the author of “The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.”
Will Wilkinson (@willwilkinson), the vice president for research at the Niskanen Center, is a contributing opinion writer.
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