Adam Nagourney: The third night of the Republican National Convention took place against a backdrop of staggering tumult in the country: the demonstrations and shootings in Kenosha, Wis., the devastating hurricane approaching the Gulf Coast. The big question was whether the speakers would at last mention these issues. The answer, particularly with Vice President Mike Pence’s speech, was yes, they were mentioned.
Shane Goldmacher: Mentioned but not addressed, especially when it comes to the demands for racial justice emanating from Kenosha — after yet another Black man was shot by the police — that have quickly spread from the streets and to professional sports. Also, the other big issue upending the lives of millions of Americans is the coronavirus pandemic. And while Mr. Pence did talk about that, his speech was the second consecutive prime-time address where the Republicans chose to have a live and not-so-socially-distanced audience cheering along.
Adam: I didn’t see many masks, now that you mention it. What has hit me these past three nights is that these conventions are essentially sandwiches. Attacks at the beginning, then a long stretch of remarks designed to humanize President Trump, particularly with women, and then wham-bam back to the attacks. As a result, people are coming away from these nights with vastly different impressions of what happened, depending on when they paid attention.
There were some really affecting tributes to Mr. Trump early on. But Mr. Pence’s speech was one of the toughest of the year — one of the toughest of any year? I think it would have taken Spiro Agnew’s breath away.
Shane: Nattering nabobs! I thought this was supposed to be uplifting?
Adam: The fact that you got that reference and didn’t make some joke about dinosaurs makes me happy.
Uplifting? I’m writing this hiding under my bed! The speech left little doubt, in case Democrats had any — and I think some of them might have — about what these next 10 weeks will be like. “The hard truth is, you will not be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” Mr. Pence said. Wow. And you know, I just plucked one of a dozen quotes that made that same attack.
Shane: It felt at times as if Mr. Pence’s speech was what the Trump campaign might sound like if Mr. Trump’s strategists — and not the president himself — were actually directing the campaign. Mr. Pence echoed some talking points and advertising tag lines almost verbatim, like the one you just quoted. And just as Trump campaign strategists might hope, Mr. Pence tried to make the election about returning to a pre-pandemic economy: “You need to ask yourself: Who do you trust to rebuild this economy?”
A not-so-subtle pitch to win back women.
Shane: One of the messages of Wednesday’s programming (at least before 10 p.m.) was not subtle: trying to appeal to female voters who have broadly abandoned Mr. Trump since 2016. There was a video on women’s suffrage that touted Mr. Trump’s baldly strategic posthumous pardon of Susan B. Anthony. And a parade of female speakers, many singing his praises: Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, and two senior White House advisers, Kayleigh McEnany and Kellyanne Conway. Did any of them break through?
Adam: My guess is some of them did. Just some. But I have a question: How will the attacks on abortion rights play with suburban women who have moved away from Mr. Trump? Abortion has become a big theme this week, and particularly on this night. I get the appeal to evangelicals and conservatives. But what about the broader group of suburban women?
Republicans on Night 3 presented Mr. Trump — well, let me quote Sister Deirdre Byrne, a surgeon who was by my count the seventh woman to speak for Mr. Trump in the first hour: “Donald Trump is the most pro-life president that this nation has ever had.” She described Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Kamala Harris as “the most anti-life ticket ever.” I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization of Mr. Biden’s position — he’s more classic Catholic Democrat middle-of-the-road — but it is what we are going to hear.
Shane: I thought Ms. McEnany, typically so combative, was effective in telling the deeply personal story of her own mastectomy, and wrapping with, “I want my daughter to grow up in President Donald Trump’s America.” I guess the question is if Mr. Trump’s paid aides are the best messengers.
Adam: That’s a fair question. Her story was incredibly powerful, but I do wonder if she is perhaps seen as too partisan, after all the time she’s spent at the podium as Mr. Trump’s spokeswoman. And after all these years in which Mr. Trump has sought to repeal Obamacare in Congress and the courts, her asking voters to believe that Mr. Trump would be tougher than Mr. Biden on requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions strains credibility. I mean, the issue helped cost the Republicans the House in 2018.
Shane: Whatever the Republicans focus on, right now the gender gap in the 2020 presidential race is colossal — and for the president potentially catastrophic. There was a CNN poll earlier this month showing Mr. Biden ahead among women voters by 23 percentage points — and losing among men by 16 points. That’s a 39-point gap! And Mr. Trump needs to narrow the margin among female voters to compete in November.
Spotlighting Republican leaders in the era after Trump.
Shane: The Democratic lineup last Wednesday was headlined by the first Black president (Barack Obama), the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party (Hillary Clinton), and the first woman of color to be on a major party ticket (Kamala Harris). The Republicans did not have that kind of celebrity firepower for their Wednesday lineup, and countered with Mr. Pence and Richard Grenell, a former ambassador to Germany. But something the G.O.P. seems to have done well is showcase the next generation of Republican talent, and no, I don’t just mean the Trump offspring, Donald Jr., Eric and Tiffany.
Adam: I’m glad you dropped in that caveat! Even the word “just” was generous. But there were a lot of new Republican faces at the podium that I suspect we will be seeing over the next decade or so.
Shane: They had, as Representative Elise Stefanik of New York described herself, the “youngest Republican woman elected to Congress in history,” followed by Madison Cawthorn from North Carolina, who just turned 25 and will most likely be in Congress next year. Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a former Navy SEAL, spoke, too. And Tuesday night, it was Daniel Cameron, the 34-year-old attorney general of Kentucky.
Adam: They all had memorable nights. And Ms. Stefanik, a real up-and-comer, directly took on the issue of impeachment; her defense of Mr. Trump, and her excoriating of Democrats for bringing impeachment proceedings, won the attention of the White House. The Democrats? They packed their future stars into that 17-person keynote address thingy. Please don’t ask me to name them. I’m not even sure I could name three of them (no, this is not a memory test).
Shane: Speaking of memory tests, my roundup tonight would be “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV. Crime. Economy. Crime.”
Adam: Wait, what was that a reference to again? I forget. Anyway, no reflection on those Democrats; there were just a lot of faces. The other thing is, we had lots of new Republicans — but once again, virtually no faces from previous Republican White Houses, at least for the first three nights.
Shane: Mr. Trump represents such a clear break from the Republicans of the past. As for those looking to the future, they took different tacks. Ms. Stefanik, as you noted, denounced the “impeachment sham.” Mr. Crenshaw was the most prominent speaker so far not to mention Mr. Trump at all.
Pence previews a brutal fall campaign against Biden.
Shane: Mr. Pence so often can come across as the narrator of a wholly different Trump administration, one more aligned with the history of modern Republicanism, and tonight felt no different. Tax cuts. Americans in space. Veterans. Taking on terrorists. Judges. Second Amendment. He did flick at how Mr. Trump “does things in his own way.” But Mr. Pence is the ticket’s strongest link to traditional conservatives and he seemed determined to keep that bridge strong.
Adam: He had a lot to do tonight. He had to make an affirmative case for Mr. Trump. He had to tear down Mr. Biden. He had to make a case for the White House’s response to the coronavirus. But his argument that the Trump administration took command of the issue from Day 1 defies the reality of what happened — I don’t think anyone would deny that out of the White House, do you, Shane?
Shane: Is that a rhetorical question?
Adam: But he had to make the case. And he laid out, with a flag-bedecked backdrop, in a key speaking slot, the foundation for his own campaign as president. Mr. Pence made clear that if Mr. Trump is re-elected, he will be unambiguously running in 2024 (take that, Don Jr.!). And if Mr. Trump loses, or if he wins and his popularity collapses in a second term, well, I guess it’s back to the drawing board.
Shane: The Republicans like to accuse Democrats of playing identity politics. But Lara Trump’s “Keep America America” line and Mr. Pence’s framing of 2020 — “The choice in this election is whether America remains America” — is very much a version of identity politicking, aimed at Mr. Trump’s largely white base.
Adam: The truth about this country is that identity politics has been central to the appeals of both major parties for years. Both parties have very different visions of the country, appeal to different Americans and are made up of different groups of Americans. Own it.