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It’s Trump time.
The Republican National Convention this week is hosted by the party, but it’s about one man: Donald J. Trump.
Breaking with tradition, the president plans to speak every night during prime time. Speakers will include his wife, all of his adult children and some of his closest confidants. The main speeches will still be held before live audiences, potentially flouting public health guidelines in the District of Columbia, where parts of the event will be held. (Charlotte, N.C., is the convention’s host city.)
The stakes couldn’t possibly be higher for Mr. Trump.
The president enters the fall campaign sprint as a deeply embattled incumbent, facing extraordinary economic, public health and social crises at home while consistently trailing in national and state polls.
The chaos that has marked his presidency shows no signs of slowing. Just this weekend, hours of recordings secretly made by his niece and provided to The Washington Post captured the president’s own sister saying that he “has no principles, none” and denouncing his “cruelty.”
And last week, Democrats pulled off their virtual convention, a high-wire event that far exceeded the low expectations set by Mr. Trump.
The summer was supposed to provide a reboot of his campaign. Now, Mr. Trump needs a reboot of the reboot.
For all of the pageantry and political showmanship, conventions tell voters how the parties see themselves. Democrats wanted to project a big, diverse tent, an inclusive administration-in-waiting ready to confront the dark reality of our times but with a plan to pull the country into a brighter future.
Mr. Trump’s message is far less clear. The president and his allies say the “uplifting” convention message will inspire hope — a morning in America during mourning in America.
“I think we’re going to see something that is going to be very uplifting and positive,” Mr. Trump said Saturday on the Fox News program “The Next Revolution.” “That’s what I’d like it to be.”
Yet Mr. Trump’s own words — the dark, divisive imagery of his recent campaign events — and some of the choices of convention speakers hint at a stormy and discordant week to come.
Along with top Republicans and administration officials, the list of speakers includes a number of figures at the center of culture war dust-ups, like the former Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann; Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who brandished firearms at Black protesters; and Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA.
That kind of mixed messaging isn’t going to accomplish what Mr. Trump must do to win a second term, which is expand his base.
At a time of crisis, voters want to know what the president will do to fix the nation’s problems. Late Sunday, Mr. Trump sent out a one-page news release detailing his second-term agenda. The bullet-point list largely consisted of vague goals like “stop endless wars” and “return to normal by 2021.” Worth noting: In the Trump administration’s first term, it still has no cohesive national strategy for combating the coronavirus.
This weekend, the Republican National Committee announced that it would pass no platform for 2020, and would rather “continue to enthusiastically support the president’s America-first agenda.”
(“I’m not going to get ahead of the president,” Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, told me when I asked what the president’s goals were for his second term.)
There’s also no effort to change the narrative around the scandals surrounding his administration. Just last week, the architect of his last campaign was hauled away in handcuffs. And Mr. Trump is definitely raising ethical questions with his convention programming.
Both the president and his wife plan to speak from the White House grounds. The program includes several White House aides, like Kellyanne Conway, as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is violating a longstanding tradition that the country’s top diplomat avoid partisan politics. Ethics experts have criticized both the decision to stage the speeches at the White House and the involvement of aides like Ms. Conway, arguing that those decisions mix governing with partisan politics.
One story line I’ll also be watching: the post-Trump jockeying. Whether he wins or loses, Mr. Trump will be out of office in 2024. Which means the battle has already begun to define the Republican Party in the post-Trump era.
Keep an eye on Mr. Pompeo, who has already made a stop in Iowa; Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, who recently hosted the president at Mount Rushmore; Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas; and Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador.
All are strong allies of the president. And all hope to seize the mantle of Trumpism once he’s gone.