The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Nikki Haley and Tim Scott give us hope for the Republican Party

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) speaks on the first day of the Republican National Convention on Monday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The first day of the Republican National Convention did three smart things, three dumb things — and offered the prospect of one big surprise: South Carolina may have finally won the Civil War.

I’ll explain shortly, but first, two of the dumb things: Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox News anchor and current Trump campaign finance official, each of whom spoke, or screamed, Monday night.

If you didn’t know that the younger Trump was the president’s son, you’d quickly figure it out. Charm-wise, they’re clone-ish. (No, I didn’t mean clownish; that’s on you.) Junior’s other hidden virtues notwithstanding, he wouldn’t be my first pick for advancing, say, a positive, upbeat message.

Why are Trump men always so angry? Was it the baby rhino that got away?

Perhaps Junior was feeling defensive on his father’s behalf. Or, more likely, he looked frothy because his girlfriend kept screaming. Guilfoyle’s perfectly awful speech was shouted rather than spoken to an empty room, as though it were filled with elderly men cupping their ears. Tips for aspiring public speakers: Always take the temperature of a room and adjust your volume accordingly. Also, the degree of one’s certitude does not require a commensurate level of decibels. Whatever the reasoning behind Guilfoyle’s frightening performance, she gave the impression of someone who could easily gnaw though the virtual realm and begin turning Democrats into dinner.

But dumber than dumb was spotlighting the St. Louis couple who pulled guns on protesters as they walked down the couple’s street en route to the mayor’s home nearby. Playing the Second Amendment card at a Republican convention is standard operating procedure, of course, but a better witness would be, say, a woman who stopped her would-be rapist with a bullet in the heat of terror.

Instead, the convention decided to put the focus on Patricia and Mark McCloskey, who, by pointing a handgun and an assault rifle toward peaceful protesters, might not be widely viewed as paragons of good judgment. While they appeared to be two average Americans exercising their right to protect their lives and property, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway should have vetoed that particular optic on her way out of the White House.

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Speaking of smart, the Republicans were wise to use the same stage for each speaker, giving the appearance of a convention rather than the glorified Zoom meeting we witnessed during last week’s Democratic “convention.” The smartest moves were including Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only African American to ever be elected to both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, as speakers.

Recalling his illiterate grandfather, who was forced to leave school in third grade to pick cotton, and his own rise to the Senate as an iconic spokesman for conservative principles, Scott said:

“Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime. And that’s why I believe the next American century can be better than the last.” The American Dream doesn’t get much better.

Haley, too, is from a minority background. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she grew up in the tiny town of Bamberg, S.C., where her mother and father wore a sari and turban. Haley was an object of curiosity who learned about racism firsthand. Her early experiences of otherness helped her decide as governor to push for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds after a white supremacist murdered nine black worshipers at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015.

As Scott and Haley related their stories in dulcet tones compared with the audio assaults of Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle, I couldn’t help thinking about a 2024 Haley/Scott ticket (never mind the potential electoral college difficulties). Which brings me to the Civil War.

South Carolina, of course, could not and should not have won the War Between the States, the causes of which will forever remain a stain on the state’s history. But the victors’ purposes — to end slavery, restore the union and make more true our Founding Fathers’ promises of equality — would seem to have reached something of a milestone were this once-proud secessionist state to fill a presidential ticket with a Black man and a Brown woman.

It would be unwise to ignore or dismiss either because of their association with President Trump. They’re Republicans, after all, and both Scott and Haley are as ambitious as they are talented. But everyone bred in the South learns early that good manners are key to opening doors. And insulting the leader of one’s own party bears no profit to the unwitting — or the rude.

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Read more:

Marc A. Thiessen: Trump spent the first night of his convention making his appeal to Black voters. It was an outstanding start.

David Von Drehle: Sorry, Democrats. Trump’s convention is working.

Hugh Hewitt: The RNC’s first night was a masterpiece of marketing

Alyssa Rosenberg: The first night of the Republican convention was a brilliant act of fan service

Gary Abernathy: If you wondered how the McCloskeys ended up on your screen, the message wasn’t aimed at you