At Tuesday night’s session, that latter effort continued apace. Speaker after speaker cast Trump as uninterested in being a good president, woefully unprepared and out of his depth. And the digs cut to the core of Trump’s self-cultivated image as a tough-guy world leader who commands respect.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that Trump “hid in a bunker as Americans were tear-gassed” in Lafayette Square outside the White House — a story Trump has disputed despite multiple outlets confirming it.
“When this president goes overseas, it isn’t a goodwill mission; it’s a blooper reel,” former secretary of state and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry said. “He breaks up with our allies and writes love letters to dictators. America deserves a president who is looked up to, not laughed at.”
Some of the guests also appeared aimed at earning Trump’s ire.
For the second straight night, the convention featured an appearance from Gold Star parent Khizr Khan, whom Trump attacked during the 2016 convention, suggesting that his Muslim wife wasn’t allowed to speak alongside him.
Also appearing Tuesday night were Sally Yates, the acting attorney general whom Trump fired; Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine whose removal was detailed during the impeachment hearings; and even Biden’s son Hunter Biden, whom Republicans have in many ways sought to run against as if he were on the ticket in 2020. Former president Bill Clinton said Trump was a great president for people who want entertainment but not leadership.
Much of it fit with the overarching messaging of the convention, but it also seemed intended to get Trump’s goat. The Biden campaign has largely allowed Trump to be the focal point of the 2020 campaign, and he has often obliged, to his detriment in polls. That continued Tuesday morning, when he stepped on his pardon of women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony by hitting back at Michelle Obama.
Trump also suggested early Tuesday night that he was indeed watching the proceedings.
“Tell the Dems that we have more Cases because we do FAR more Testing than any other Country!” Trump said, repeating a false claim he has made many times before.
The response only reinforced the alleged absenteeism and unwillingness to appreciate the nature of the threat that Democrats have sought to drive home.
Generally, you want your convention to be about your candidate, and Jill Biden’s speech, focused on her husband and his character, was an exception at the end of the night. But while Democrats in 2016 bemoaned Trump’s ability to constantly dominate the news, in 2020 they seem to be tempting him to do it again — this time for their own gain.
2. An unusually compelling roll call
There are few things about a virtual convention so far that are better than an in-person one. But one of them arrived Tuesday: the roll call.
In what is normally a pretty boring process involving representatives from each state announcing how many delegates have gone for each candidate, Tuesday brought an opportunity for a more compelling trip around the country (and to seven territories). Each state got a chance to display a scene and offer a message it wanted to emphasize.
The representatives from Oklahoma and Texas took the opportunity to point to tragedies, in Tulsa a century ago and El Paso last year. Those from Puerto Rico and other territories emphasized that they are U.S. citizens, too. Tennessee noted that it was the deciding state on giving women the right to vote. Wisconsin noted that it was the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment.
Rhode Island even pitched itself as the “calamari comeback state,” as it displayed its appetizing delight (Rhode Island-style, naturally).
Perhaps it was because we’re all largely confined to our houses and our communities, but it provided variety and worked better than the same representatives shouting into a packed convention hall. Here’s looking forward to the GOP version next week.
3. A new era, with a bit part for the Clintons
Bill Clinton has spoken at every Democratic National Convention since 1980 — a streak of 10 conventions before Tuesday night. But for his 11th, the former president found himself in an unusual spot: a brief opening act.
Clinton spoke for about five minutes around 9:30 p.m. Eastern time in a strikingly brief address for a man known for delivering lengthy stemwinders that often last longer than convention organizers would like — more than 40 minutes in 2016 and about 50 minutes in 2012. In his remarks, which followed a tape of fellow former president Jimmy Carter, Clinton attacked Trump for being preoccupied with personal grievances.
“If you want a president who defines the job as spending hours a day watching TV and zapping people on social media, he’s your man,” Clinton said. “Denying, distracting and demeaning works great if you’re trying to entertain or inflame. But in a real crisis, it collapses like a house of cards.”
Part of the brief address was the result of necessary changes in format, in which speeches like Clinton’s are mostly taped. But the early, almost perfunctory appearance was also a striking departure from where the Democratic Party has been for the last 32 years.
The Clintons have found themselves increasingly on the outs with the modern Democratic Party, in part because of the #MeToo movement and in part because of the disappointment of the 2016 election. But it was still a remarkable bit part — and a reflection of the moment — for what has been the first family of Democratic politics for most of the last three decades.
Hillary Clinton will speak Wednesday, and it will be fascinating to see what kind of platform she’s afforded.