“We are delivering lifesaving therapies and will produce a vaccine before the end of the year — or maybe even sooner,” Trump said.
He added later: “We will have a safe and effective vaccine this year, and we will crush the virus.”
Trump, delivering his speech from the legally problematic perch of the White House’s South Lawn, notably went further than Vice President Pence had gone the night before. Pence said merely that “we’re on track to have the world’s first safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year.”
“On track” is not the same as “we will produce” and “will have.” And the promise from Trump was instructive when it came to his speech. While he spoke plenty about what he has done as president, his boldest claims came on what lay ahead — at a time when voters will already have decided whether his presidency will continue for another four years and when there will be no recourse.
At another point, Trump picked up on his previous warnings about what would happen with racial-justice demonstrations and riots if Joe Biden is elected, going further than usual.
“Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens,” he said.
Trump has used the unrest politically before, despite it occurring on his watch and him having promised in 2016 to end such scenes and violent crime in short order.
Trump also said that, “China would own our country if Joe Biden got elected” and predicted another coronavirus-related shutdown, saying, “The cost of the Biden shutdown would be measured in increased drug overdoses, depression, alcohol addiction, suicides, heart attacks, economic devastation, job loss and much more.”
What Biden actually said is that he would shut things down again if health officials recommended it.
Conventions are full of promises and warnings. What Thursday night featured, though, was a massive and speculative promise about a vaccine still being studied, and extremely dire warnings about what lies ahead, even as the current scenes exist on Trump’s watch.
Trump has long sought a quick fix to the coronavirus outbreak, promoting both an unproven drug and therapy. On Thursday, like his predecessor Barack Obama, he in some ways campaigned on hope and change — hope of something intangible and unverifiable, and change in the threat of his successor.
2. A boogeyman: New York City
Several speakers on Thursday night hit on a similar theme: New York City under liberal leadership is a cautionary tale. And they used Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) as their boogeyman.
“This Democrat mayor, like others, has often prevented the police from making arrests,” said Trump’s lawyer and former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. “And even when arrests are made, liberal progressive [district attorneys] released the rioters so as not to disrupt the rioting. New Yorkers wonder how did we get overwhelmed by crime so quickly and declined so fast? Don’t let Democrats do to America what they have done to New York.”
New York City police union chief Patrick Lynch offered a similar message, citing a rise in violent crime in the city this year.
“Every day the number keeps growing,” Lynch said. “And every day our communities are asking us: Why is this happening? The answer is simple: The Democrats have walked away from us. They have walked away from police officers, and they’ve walked away from the innocent people we protect. Democratic politicians have surrendered our streets and our institutions.”
Lynch concluded, ominously by echoing Trump’s own speech: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America. We can have four more years of President Trump. Or you can have no safety, no justice, no peace.”
In another video, a longtime Democrat who works in New York City housing, Carmen Quinones, went after de Blasio’s housing policies and cast the Trump administration as helping overcome its failures.
De Blasio is one of the most unpopular political figures in the country, alienating even many Democrats and running a Democratic presidential primary campaign that went nowhere. The convention has made an effort to cast Trump as the answer to Democratic cities that have failed to deal with unrest, and Thursday night it zeroed in on one prime example.
3. An appeal to elusive crossover voters
For the entire week, there has been clear and demonstrable focus on featuring African American Trump supporters — both in videos and the choice of speakers. While Trump has very little support among the Black community, the focus on them seems partially geared toward assuaging the concerns of attainable voters who have reservations about Trump’s handling of race.
Thursday brought more of that, and another similar appeal: One to liberals, Democrats and other potential recruits to the GOP side.
A video featured a number of people who fit those descriptions, including those who described themselves as socialist, supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), or others who hadn’t previously backed Republicans.
“This bold man coming down the escalator in New York City, I couldn’t come out and say it right away, but deep down inside, I knew he was going to be the first Republican that I ever voted for,” said former NFL player Jack Brewer, who is Black.
Added a man who said he had been a Democratic socialist: “I think there’s a political realignment that’s taking place. I’ve always been very antiwar, and now Trump is by a mile the antiwar candidate. I’ve always been very much free speech. Trump is now by a mile the more pro-free speech candidate.”
Then came a speech from a rare party-switcher in Congress, Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), who left the Democrats in December after voting against Trump’s impeachment.
“Democratic leaders told me that I had to vote for impeachment or my life would be made difficult and I wouldn’t be allowed to run again,” Van Drew claimed. “Listen, I’m from South Jersey and you better come at me with more than just loud words and empty threats.”
Trump in his speech said the his candidacy was “ready to welcome millions of Democrats, Independents and anyone who believes in the greatness of America and the righteous heart of the American people.”
As with Trump’s Black support, there is very little evidence of a political realignment in which former Democrats or Trump opponents have come around to him. Trump’s image ratings have barely budged from when he became the most unpopular president-elect in modern history. And while he got a fair number of votes from supporters of Bernie Sanders in 2016 — between 6 and 12 percent, depending on the survey — a New York Times/Siena College poll last month showed Sanders’s primary supporters backing Biden 87 percent to 4 percent, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) backers supporting Biden 96-0.