Even when the biggest political junkies recall past national political conventions, rarely do they remember a single night as a whole.
Sure, there are plucked lines from memorable speeches. After all, some specific convention speeches essentially elected presidents four years later, like Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.
People may even remember weird stuff like how the 1996 Democratic National Convention broke out into the macarena dance or, well, whatever that was from Clint Eastwood at the 2012 Republican convention.
However, the second night of the 2020 Republican National Convention may be remembered as a whole for all of the rule-breaking, both politically, culturally — and potentially even legally.
Here are three big picture takeaways from the second night:
1. Trump leveraged the power of the presidency for his political gain in an unprecedented way
There were a lot of speeches during the evening, including from two of Trump’s children. There was an inspiring tale from a New Mexico police officer. And there was a solid speech from the First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump. This was standard fare as political conventions go.
What wasn’t standard were the official actions Trump took from the White House for the sole purpose of being aired during his political convention. In the early moments of the evening, Trump pardoned a Black man from Nevada who has turned his life around after committing several crimes. Then he led a naturalization ceremony for five new immigrants (even though his own administration is cutting back on the number of naturalization ceremonies.)
And then there were the final speeches. The first from the sitting Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in Jerusalem on official business. The second from Melania Trump, who spoke live from the White House, in the newly refurbished-with-taxpayer-dollars Rose Garden.
Laws prevent the mixing of official business and politics. As president, Trump is exempt from the Hatch Act, but Pompeo is not, nor is the acting secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, who administered the oath during the naturalization ceremony. Indeed, the US House began an investigation into the legality of Pompeo’s speech hours before it aired on television.
The White House issued a statement saying that “any government employees who may participate will do so in compliance with the Hatch Act.”
But if they didn’t, is anyone going to bring charges?
2. There was no effort to soften Trump’s image
Last week, the Democrats did a very traditional thing: they softened up the image of their nominee, hoping to make Joe Biden more likable. There were the segments with grandchildren talking about how he sneaks a spoonful of Breyers ice cream all the time. There were people talking about how he shared moments of grief. There was the US House intern who handed his phone to Biden to talk to his grandmother and he did for a long time. And there was, perhaps most memorably, the New Hampshire teenager who found support for his stuttering after meeting Biden at an event last year.
Trump is the most polarizing person in American life, but Republicans seem to be passing on the idea of trying to soften his image. His kids and wife kept the topic on big themes of the election, but not on Trump the father or Trump the husband. Even Monday night, when former football star Herschel Walker spoke of his long friendship with Trump, it included an anecdote that Trump originally had no plans to go to Disney World with his kids, but then surprised his and Walker’s family when he did show up.
3. Biden was rarely mentioned
It’s important to have a foil in politics. In 2016, Trump had Hillary Clinton to point to and essentially said he isn’t perfect, but do you really want to elect her? But this year, the Republican convention is decidedly not about destroying Biden.
In fact, they are practically conceding Biden is a good and moderate person and spend their time slamming those around him, namely some amorphous “radical left,” which they say is controlling him. Democrats were calling Trump every bad name they could think of last week, but the closest Republicans got to replicating that was a speech sharply critical of Biden’s son Hunter.
Republicans, instead, are trying to convince voters that there is so much more at stake than Biden. Once on the first day and again on the second, speakers referenced how “Western civilization” was at stake.