World·Analysis

Republican convention expected to portray Biden as 'captive to the radical left' as it energizes base

The Republican convention this week is expected to include casualties of 'cancel culture' among its speakers and to position Donald Trump as the only leader able to confront the violence that has accompanied anti-racism protests in some U.S. cities.

Casualties of 'cancel culture' among speakers expected to praise Trump's record

While parts of this week's Republican National Convention will take place in Charlotte, N.C., U.S. President Donald Trump will be making his acceptance speech from the White House. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

If there's one theme to emerge from this week's Republican National Convention, which will formally nominate U.S. President Donald Trump as the party's candidate for the Nov. 3 election, it will likely be this: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is a pawn of the radical left.

"The Democrats desperately want this race to be a referendum on Trump, and the Republicans need this race to be a choice between Trump and the radical left," said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"I think they are going to have to make a strong case that Joe Biden cannot possibly be trusted to resist the radical left."

The Republican convention — a mostly virtual affair because of the COVID-19 pandemic — is expected to have more live components than the Democratic convention, which wrapped up last Thursday and featured a number of pre-taped speeches. (Trump has expressed his displeasure with taped speeches, and most of those delivered in prime time are expected to be live.)

While parts of the convention will take place in Charlotte, N.C., Trump plans to make his acceptance speech from the White House lawn.

Former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden accepts the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination during a speech delivered at the largely virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention in Wilmington, Del., on Thursday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

'Great American Story' theme of convention 

Organizers say the overall theme of the convention is "Honouring the Great American Story," and while it will feature a number of politicians, it will also highlight everyday Americans who say the president's policies have enriched their lives. 

Daily themes include "land of heroes," "land of promise" and "land of opportunity." On Thursday night, when Trump delivers his acceptance speech, the theme is "land of greatness," CNN reported.

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Certainly among the speeches from such high-profile Republicans as Vice-President Mike Pence, first lady Melania Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, references will be made to what many Republicans consider significant policy wins for the administration.

These include tax cuts, deregulation, the appointment of conservative judges, a renewed free-trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, and withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and Iran nuclear deal.

With Biden leading Trump in the polls, including in most of the battleground states, strategists say they expect the convention to go heavy on ways to bring down the former vice-president who served with Barack Obama. 

Which is why, said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, expect a lot of "Biden bashing."

"I think it's all going to be, 'Joe Biden is evil. [He's] going to turn this country into a socialist republic.'"

Casualties of 'cancel culture' to speak

It's likely why convention organizers have invited speakers who have come to symbolize for Republicans and conservatives a front against the left, such as casualties of what they see as a left-wing mainstream media and so-called cancel culture — where prominent people face attack for sharing controversial opinions.

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Speakers are expected to include Nicholas Sandmann, a Kentucky teen who claimed media organizations falsely labelled him a racist following a well-publicized face-to-face encounter with an Indigenous man at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in January 2019. Sandmann sued a number of news organizations for defamation and has reached settlements with CNN and the Washington Post, among others.

Student Nick Sandmann, shown facing Indigenous activist Nathan Phillips during a protest at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in January 2019, is one of the expected speakers at the Republican convention. (KC Noland/YouTube)

Also scheduled to speak are Patricia and Mark McCloskey, a couple from St. Louis, Mo., who made headlines after brandishing weapons when Black Lives Matters demonstrators walked by their home in June during a protest against racial injustice. The two face felony charges for waving firearms "in a threatening manner."

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director turned abortion opponent, and Andrew Pollack, who became a gun rights advocate after his daughter was killed in a 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., are also slated to speak

Jennings, the Republican strategist, said by including these speakers, the party will be trying to portray those on the left as authoritarian and committed to cancel culture — seeking to banish from the public square anyone who dares hold an alternate opinion.

"I think they're trying to tell people that 'look, Joe Biden, he'll be captive to the radical left. And what do they do when they get power? They bully you into submission. They will try to get rid of all political opposition. Just ask these people,'" Jennings said.

One issue ignored by the Democrats that will likely dominate during the Republican convention is the violence and rioting that has accompanied protests against racism and police brutality in some major cities in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

Mark and Patricia McCloskey, wielding firearms as they confront Black Lives Matter protesters walking past their St. Louis, Mo., home in June, are also expected to speak at the convention. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/The Associated Press)

"Make no mistake, Republicans will exploit this oversight," wrote Noah Rothman, online editor for Commentary magazine. "Indeed it's a veritable lifeline for Donald Trump and the GOP."

The Republicans will position Trump — with his "law and order" message — as the only leader able to stand against the violence and chaos that they say are engulfing those cities, Republican strategist Evan Siegfried said.

"The American carnage that he talked about in his inaugural speech, that's what he's going to be saying is going to happen if you don't [vote for him]."

Speakers aren't politically diverse

What viewers won't see, however, is a diverse range of speakers on the political spectrum. The Democratic convention included progressives like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and disaffected Republicans, such as former Ohio governor John Kasich.

The Democratic convention also featured past presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and former presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. But notably absent from the Republican lineup will be former president George W. Bush, senior members of his administration and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has been one of the few Republican lawmakers critical of Trump.

Former U.S. president George W. Bush, shown speaking in Atlanta during the funeral of late U.S. Congressman John Lewis on July 30, will be notably absent from the Republican convention, along with senior members from his administration and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool via Reuters)

Molly O'Rourke, executive in residence at American University's School of Communication, said what was successful about the Democratic convention was that while it made the case against Trump, it was relevant to the real-world experiences of people during the pandemic. 

And if the Republican convention is too negative toward Biden and the Democrats, it "runs the risk of not connecting with voters' lives," she said.

Despite the stated theme of the event and the range of everyday American speakers, Bannon, the Democratic strategist, said he still believes the convention isn't seeking a wider appeal to voters.

"It seems to me this is a Republican convention basically designed to reach out to their base and do nothing else," he said.

About the Author

Mark Gollom

Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from The Associated Press

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