Aug 23, 2020 72 days to Nov 03, 2020
The Surge

Slate’s guide to the 2020 races and politicians everyone’s talking about this week.

Welcome to this week’s edition of a very special Sunday Convention Surge, in which we look ahead to the Republican National Convention and what horrors may come.

We’re shooting in the dark here, since as we write this a few days ahead of the convention start, there’s very little information about the schedule or structure that’s been released publicly. What we can reasonably expect is for it to be some of the most insane television ever broadcast. Much of our list is generous. We ask, for example, what message the Trump campaign plans to get across about certain areas of concern, as if there’s going to be “planning” involved beyond play-acting whatever ideas Donald Trump comes up with while he’s on the toilet, looking at printed-out memes, the morning of.

Here are seven things we’re looking forward to about Trump’s last stand, in the same sense that the bit characters in the Book of Revelation are “looking forward” to the Seven Seals. Brace yourself.

Donald Trump.
Donald Trump. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images.

Rank 1

1. A political defense against the coronavirus

Do they even bother attempting one?

One of the major throughlines connecting the most memorable addresses at the Democratic National Convention was that Donald Trump is not and never will be capable of being an effective, grown-up president, and the pandemic has exposed how immediately dangerous that is to everyone. He didn’t, and still doesn’t, take it seriously, and 170,000-plus people so far have paid the ultimate price. The difficulty for Republicans hoping to counter this attack is that it is both already true and made truer each time the president opens his mouth. Can Republicans find a way to directly respond to this extremely damning message that currently has Trump on track to lose reelection? Maybe he can get some nongovernmental “medical experts”—who turn out, on a first Google search, to be unlicensed chiropractors and, after a few more Google searches, to have no formal medical education but instead run illegal midnight cockfighting rings outside Boca Raton—to vouch for his response. But a safer bet is he’ll just distract with gimmicks.

Rank 2

2. Gimmicks

Oh God …

Trump thought the Democratic National Convention was boring. This is not one of his most wrong opinions, and he senses an opportunity to upstage Democrats’ grave infomercial. “Calling aides at all hours from Air Force One or the White House residence,” CNN reports, “Trump has conveyed last-minute ideas on venues or gimmicks and demanded progress reports on the speakers he wants during his nominating extravaganza.” The gimmicks Trump is considering, further, “are designed both to surprise viewers and trigger outrage from Trump’s opponents.” We should expect, then, the typical gross exploitation of “angel moms,” and we already know that he’s elevating targets of liberal outrage like former Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann and the St. Louis barefoot gun nut couple. But beyond trolling, we should look for plenty of zany asides, like a race between the Beautiful Boaters, the winner of which gets a chance to give their Social Security number to Brad Parscale. 

Rank 3

3. Defining Joe Biden

Senile or a Trojan horse? A senile Trojan horse.

The Trump campaign ramped up its attacks on Joe Biden as senile during the week of the campaign, releasing an ad on the matter for which it bought prime space on YouTube. Fox News was quite taken with the message as well. It wasn’t the most effective attack to have deployed leading into Biden’s Thursday speech, as Biden delivered a well-received address with command. In its rapid-response statement to Biden’s speech, then, the Trump campaign pivoted to its other main line of attack: He’s a puppet of the Jacobins, who, if they had their way, would kill you the first time you misgendered someone on Twitter. “By accepting his party’s nomination tonight, Joe Biden has formally become a pawn of the radical leftists,” the campaign said. “His name is on the campaign logo, but the ideas come from the socialist extremists.” This is a more sustainable line of attack, but it still concedes a lingering problem for Trump: They don’t have a way of directly defining Biden, himself, negatively. People are going to start voting in, like, a month. Can they find something in Biden’s 50-year political history that sticks?

Rank 4

4. The pitch to white seniors and suburbanites

Maybe come up with one that people will buy?

The two demographics where rapid defections are killing the Trump campaign right now are white senior citizens and whites with college degrees, largely located in the suburbs. If he doesn’t stanch the losses, he cannot win reelection. We know that Trump knows this, because he’s been hammering messages meant for the white voters he’s losing; the problem has been that his messages are insane. One ad shows a granny getting beaten by a home invader with the message being that Joe Biden wants to defund the police. Trump has also been proclaiming that Biden wants to “abolish the suburbs” and the Suburban Housewives living their Suburban Lifestyle Dreams. The problem with these messages—aside from Trump’s normal-whistle racism, which is one of the defining characteristics that suburbanites don’t like about him!—is that they don’t pass the smell test. An effective negative attack has to meet voters halfway, and the idea that Joe Biden wants to “defund the police” or “abolish the suburbs” is too easily dismissible as desperation. Is there something Trump can say to these demographics, which were anchors of the Republican coalition as recently as the 2012 Mitt Romney campaign, that they don’t laugh off? Maybe. Should we expect, instead, Trump to write and direct a little one act for the convention that shows Biden in revolutionary fatigues burning a white soccer mom at the stake? More likely.

Rank 5

5. The speakers

Well? Anyone?

As of this writing on Friday, there’s still no official roster of speakers lined up for the Republican convention that begins on Monday. We’ve heard about various minicelebrities who are famous for being canceled, but very little of actual Republican officeholders who will be participating. Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chair, criticized the Democrats’ show for starting “every night with a Hollywood actress ‘elite-splaining’ to America how the coasts and the elite and Big Tech and Hollywood individuals think we should view America.” There’s a legitimate criticism buried within that hilarious sentence, that Democrats overdid it on celebrity or famous political names from the past when some of their most effective moments came from testimony from normal Americans. But McDaniel may also be covering up for how Trump can’t get a whole lot of prominent Republicans to speak. Several Democrats in tight Senate races spoke at Biden’s convention; good luck finding those Republicans they’re targeting at Trump’s. The “names” we’re likely to see will be those planning presidential runs in 2024 and a slew of grifters. With some overlap.

Rank 6

6. A celebration of the economy of February

Trump’s “secret weapon,” from February.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know that Donald Trump is certainly an unorthodox president. But at least he has the economy, of February. Under Donald Trump, the economy roared—in February—with record low unemployment and soaring stock market gains. Everyone had jobs and wages were on the up and up and up, in February. Maybe you don’t like his “tweets,” or how rude he is. But thanks to Donald Trump, in February, you were doing pretty well, and your economic well-being six months ago is something we should expect the convention to hammer home. If Joe Biden is elected president, the February economy could be doomed, with unemployment reaching record heights, businesses shuttering, and millions of average people unable to make their rent.

Rank 7

7. A physical defense against the coronavirus

How many delegates will end up in the case count?

The fussy Democrats asked all of their delegates to stay home, with only the necessary producers and Democratic National Committee officials appearing, for contract-fulfilling purposes, at the site of the convention in Milwaukee. Republicans have limited but not entirely eliminated the in-person role for delegates, as 336 of them will show up for the “business” portion of the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, with Trump thinking about popping in too. Some undetermined number of attendees will be around for the events in Washington, where many of the speeches will be delivered. (Trump wants crowd noise.) The Republican National Committee has, responsibly, required mask usage. But it is difficult to conceive of a group more politically hostile to mask usage on the principle of “I’m not a COWARD” than Trump delegates to a national convention, and we’re talking about the select few delegates who were die-hard enough to actually fly into this thing. So that mask mandate might be more like a “guideline” that’s immediately discarded, not even counting the after-hours drinking. Stay safe, and keep your distance, Charlotte.