Showman Trump hopes Republican convention will change America's tune
President Donald Trump will draw on all his showman's instincts at the Republican convention starting Monday to get Americans to look beyond his handling of the coronavirus crisis and return him to the White House for a second term.
Facing anger over the pandemic and ensuing economic turmoil, Trump badly trails his Democratic opponent Joe Biden in the polls. But the Republican insists he can replicate his surprise 2016 win -- and hopes the convention, where he will be nominated to seek reelection November 3, will launch the comeback.
Due to COVID-19, the convention will be largely online, the same as the Democrats' unprecedented convention last week. But technical aspects will be only the start of the tradition-wrecking changes brought to the Trump party.
Unlike standard conventions, where the candidate stays mostly out of the way until the last night, Trump is expected to be in the limelight all four days. His family, which has had an unusual amount of influence and access at the White House during his tumultuous first term, will also be omnipresent.
There'll be First Lady Melania Trump's speech in the Rose Garden on Tuesday and addresses by the president's children, including right-wing firebrand son Don Jr, daughter-advisor Ivanka and daughter-in-law Lara Trump.
On Monday, the convention kicks off with Republican delegates meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, to hear Trump speak.
Trump's climactic speech on Thursday, which the Republicans hope to follow with fireworks, will be delivered at the White House itself -- a show of power trampling over the custom of separating political campaigns from the office of president.
In yet another move raising eyebrows, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a big Trump supporter, will make a speech on his behalf while conducting an official trip to Israel. It's often said that the Democrats' deep Hollywood connections give them the upper hand in the showbiz side of politics. They put on a well-honed production last week, culminating with Biden's emotional pledge to be an "ally of the light" after what he called the "darkness" of Trump's first term.
Trump, though, also has years of experience in television, quite apart from his decades as a celebrity property developer. So, reports that he has brought in two of the producers on his old reality TV show "The Apprentice" to help out come as no surprise.
God, jobs and guns
For all his bullishness, Trump faces an uphill struggle against Biden, who is tapping into massive unhappiness with the president's handling of the pandemic, unrest over racial inequality and fear of longterm economic damage from the coronavirus shutdown.
Beyond bread and butter issues, Trump's abrasive style, his habit of insulting people he doesn't like in public, his demonization of journalists, and almost total inability to talk to Democratic leaders has left the country divided and exhausted.
After the Democrats used their convention to promise national healing, Trump sought to turn the issue on its head, accusing his opponents of being the ones going negative.
"They spent four straight days attacking America as racist and a horrible country that must be redeemed," he said Friday. "Where Joe Biden sees American darkness, I see American greatness."
Asked by Fox News in an interview aired Sunday what to expect at the convention, Trump said "something that is going to be very uplifting and positive."
Trump's number one message is that the economy, reeling from the shock of the nationwide shutdown earlier this year, will come back soon.
He told Fox News he will be promising tax cuts and "the best economy ever."
But the sunny tone is likely to get heavy competition from Trump's other favourite themes -- his often outlandish claims that Democrats want to take away Americans' firearms, unleash anarchy in the streets, encourage mass illegal immigration, and even repress religious freedom.
Earlier this month, Trump told a crowd that Biden will "hurt the Bible, hurt God" -- a statement that quickly drew outrage and ridicule.
Asked by Fox News whether a kinder, gentler kind of Trump might be seen in a second term, the president said: "I'd like it to be calm, too."
But "I have to fight back," he said. "If I don't fight back strong, I would be sitting here right now."