The best speech of the night

Senator Tim Scott's speech was the least ambitious, and the most convincing.

Speeches by Nikki Haley, Donald Trump Jr., and Tim Scott August 24, 2020.

Republican National Convention, First Night.

Imagine a convention where two of the most prominent first night speakers try out their candidacies for four years ahead. It’s a standard practice which seems strange because of the current context.

But that’s what Nikki Haley and Donald Trump Jr. delivered last night. Tim Scott, who followed them, also gave a traditional speech but seemed less ambitious.

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Haley opened by quoting a predecessor of hers at the United Nations, applying Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Democrats blame America first” line from 1984 to her own time there and the present day. At the UN, which Haley characterized as “a place where dictators, murderers, and thieves denounce America… and then put their hands out and demand that we pay their bills,” she and President Trump stood up for America unlike Obama and Biden. She credited Trump with imposing tough sanctions on North Korea (a dubious claim) and ripping up the Iran deal. She contrasted Trump and herself (Pence’s name would be mentioned once, at the end) with Obama and Biden: strength and success vs. weakness and failure. 

Turning to the economy, she assailed Biden for trying to hold her back while governor of South Carolina. As president, said Haley, Joe’s bosses would be Pelosi, Sanders and the Squad, socialists all. On the other hand “The pandemic has set us back, but not for long. President Trump brought our economy back before, and he will bring it back again.”

With respect to racism in America, Haley spoke again about herself. Her Indian-American parents “never gave in to grievance and hate.” She deftly sliced up a familiar phrase to turn it on Democrats: 

[O]f course we know that every single black life is valuable. The black cops who’ve been shot in the line of duty — they matter. The black small business owners who’ve watched their life’s work go up in flames — they matter. The black kids who’ve been gunned down on the playground — their lives matter too. And their lives are being ruined and stolen by the violence on our streets.

Haley rounded out her racism block by recounting the church massacre in Charleston, when under her leadership “we came together…and removed a divisive symbol peacefully and respectfully.”

A more self-serving speech in the guise of praising another politician would be hard to find.

***

Donald Trump Jr. spoke in a hastened and aggressive voice, his hands in constant motion. He wound the clock back to winter when the economy was roaring:

And then courtesy of the Chinese Communist Party, the virus struck. The President quickly took action and shut down travel from China. Joe Biden, and his Democrat allies, called my father a racist and a xenophobe for doing it.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, Trump said, venturing a risky analogy between COVID19 and the Vietnam War. “Job gains are outpacing what the so called experts expected, but Biden’s radical left wing policies would stop our economic recovery cold.” 

Trump lit into Biden’s record:

He supported the worst trade deals in the history of the planet. He voted for the NAFTA nightmare, down the tubes went our auto industry. He pushed for TPP, goodbye manufacturing jobs. Beijing Biden is so weak on China that the intelligence community recently assessed that the Chinese Communist Party favors Biden.  

Trump, like other speakers this evening, tied Biden to a radical, socialist left that hates America. Trump zeroed in on “cancel culture” as a sign that First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion were under attack. He put the words “peaceful protesters” in air quotes. He framed the election choice as “church, work and school” versus “rioting, looting, and vandalism.” And indeed there was unrest in Kenosha WI last night after another police shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, in his back. (Blake is alive.)

Trump advocated school choice and opportunity zones for inner cities. He closed with a visionary passage:

Imagine a world where there are evils of communism and radical Islamic terrorism are not given a chance to spread, where heroes are celebrated and the good guys win. You can have it. That is the life. That is the country. That is the world that Donald Trump and the Republican party are after.

Trump did not talk about himself. He lacks the resume of Haley. Nor did he go into detail about his father’s first-term accomplishments and second-term agenda. Apart from the “Beijing Biden” remark, he stayed away from the meme-bullet approach he has taken in his book and podcast, both entitled “Triggered.” His staccato delivery was disciplined to the assignment of bashing the opposition. There was on display a bearing which suggests an interest in seeking elective office.

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The evening’s final speaker was Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, that body’s sole Black Republican. He opened by putting the calamities and the election in a broader and benevolent picture:

From a global pandemic, to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, 2020 has tested our nation in ways we haven’t seen for decades.

But regardless of the challenges presented to us…every four years…Americans come together to vote…To share stories of what makes our nation strong, and the lessons we have learned that can strengthen it further for our children and grandchildren.

After the obligatory slap at cancel culture Scott told his success story. He rang a change on the King/Obama line about the arc of history to underscore the lesson of his rise: 

The truth is, our nation’s arc always bends back towards fairness. We are not fully where we want to be…but thank God we are not where we used to be!

Scott credited the president for the heights of the pre-pandemic economy. He referenced three Biden gaffes about persons of color and limned this policy contrast:

In 1994, Biden led the charge on a crime bill that put millions of black Americans behind bars…

President Trump’s criminal justice reform law fixed many of the disparities Biden created and made our system more fair and just for all Americans.

Scott closed by returning to his life story “from Cotton to Congress” as evidence of the resilience of the American Dream under Republican leadership.

This was the best speech of the night. Scott managed to score points in an upbeat approach that did not deny harsh realities but did not dwell on them either.

The entire evening unfolded within a protective bubble. The pandemic, the economic collapse, and racial inequities were acknowledged as externalities. No one wore a mask, not even the front-line workers the president invited to join him in the East Room to pay tribute to him and receive his personal thanks. Economic indicators were reset to February 2020. And the fact that President Trump has defended that “divisive symbol” Haley mentioned, the Confederate flag, was deemed the lesser offense than “cancel culture.” In keeping with this oblique approach to the present, Nikki Haley, Donald Trump Jr., and Tim Scott gave speeches that could have been delivered at any time in the last thirty years. They sounded removed from the convulsions that hit the nation this spring. As if the awful things haven’t really happened, and will soon go away.

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