Round Two

Round Two


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

If anyone had any doubt, the Republican National Convention proved that the Grand Old Party is no more. There is indeed a Trumpian version of the Republican Party, but this is not anything resembling the party of Nixon, Reagan, Bush, McCain, or Romney to say nothing of the party of Lincoln. What the events last week demonstrated unequivocally was that Donald Trump has totally captured the GOP. Trump’s party tolerates no moderates or dissident voices; even Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were absent.

The convention also showcased, as has been widely reported and discussed, Trump and his entire family. The President was the story. Never in American politics has there ever been such cult of personality presented to the American people as a choice to run the country, except perhaps Charles A. Lindbergh. It was a convention designed to enrage and deepen the polarization in America not to bring the nation together to address its problems. Self-adulation was the hallmark of the speeches from the President on down. The United States is in the midst of some of the most serious multi-dimensional crises it has ever faced, largely because of Donald Trump’s ineptitude as president over the last four years. This is not the fault of his Joe Biden, who has not been in charge, yet that is precisely the messages that the speakers sought to convey.

It was, however, the elevation of the individual above the country which was so seriously problematic and dangerous. It was the absence of ideas and the vacuous speeches which glorified someone who—with all his enablers—has disregarded many of the fundamental principles of democracy. His supporters glorified his willingness to ignore all the branches of government as well as the state and local leaders who do not accept his directives. Trump and his sycophants did not extol democratic values they praised Trumpism. This was not the Republican convention but the Trump Convention.

There are places in the country, where this convention was red meat for them. It reinforced his base, but the question is whether he expanded his voter support with his scare tactics, especially in the swing states. This will be readily apparent by the size of the Trump’s post-convention bump in the polls which will show up early this week.

Political scientists have consistently demonstrated that the minds of most voters have been made up by Labor Day, except for perhaps 10% of the voters over whom the balance of the campaign is then waged. Many of them will make their decision after the first debate. This year, in particular, because of the number of absentee ballots that will be cast and the number of voters who will vote early to avoid Election Day lines, decisions will be made early.

Finally, the deep polarization in America today suggests another variable which might also affect the fluctuation of voters’ preferences. Most of the President’s supporters are solid. The question will be the extent to which any of Trump’s softer supporters in 2016 are still in play. It also is an issue as to the extent to which some of Trump’s 2016 anti-Hillary supporters will reconsider their position to return to their historical Democratic home after watching the convention. Was Trump’s fear mongering last week effective?

In addition, there is a persistent challenge for Biden. Will the Democrats—who are not in power—articulate an impressive enough response to any and all violence which may transpire so as to assuage any anxiety among soft, marginal Democratic voters?


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