At his inauguration address in 2017, Donald Trump positioned himself as the protector of those who had voted for him. Rather than as is customary, using the speech to expand his appeal to a wider section of the electorate, he promised to his base that ‘you will never be ignored again’.
The same idea of the President being a protector was demonstrable in Trump’s acceptance speech last night outside the White House. Yet this time, in a deliberate attempt to widen his appeal, the President was not the protector of his core vote and of their goals but rather of the American nation. His campaign team clearly believes that if Trump can successfully position himself as the patriotic, American candidate, then voters’ love for their country will outweigh other concerns.
Throughout the speech when outlining the choice voters face, or of the vision the Democrats wish to advance, he framed it as a choice between Joe Biden and saving America. Every remark was anchored to the patriotic question.
‘This election will decide whether we save the American dream, or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny. Whether we allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy the American way of life’.
Throughout the convention, numerous speeches have deliberately countered the accusations made by Democrats last week. Joe Biden’s solution to America’s woes was his character, to contrast with the accusations being made of Trump’s. Melania Trump and Kayleigh McEnany had both recounted personal stories that spoke to the President’s morality and compassion. Adding to this, Trump opened his remarks with personal tributes to his wife, children, grandchildren, and late brother.
Attempts were made to appeal to evangelical voters – ‘In this country, we don’t turn to government to restore our souls – we put our faith in Almighty God. Joe Biden is not the saviour’. As well as to traditional conservative values ‘Democrat leaders talk about moral decency, but they have no problem with stopping a baby’s beating heart in the ninth month of pregnancy’.
Yet underlining the entire speech was a risky dependency on the pandemic abating by November and on riots such as those seen in Wisconsin continuing.
This is an election where both candidates have not offered extensive policy platforms, but rather because of the current dominance in American life of Covid-19 and questions over race, are constantly reacting to events occurring around them. It is a unique campaign in which the narrative is solely being determined by outside factors.
Following Biden’s comment that he would lockdown America to fight Covid-19, the President stated that ‘instead of following the science, Biden wants to inflict a terrible shutdown on the country’. The cost of which would be measured ‘in increased suicides, drug overdoses, and increased economic devastation’.
Continuing to oppose any more stringent measures, does not only reveal Trump’s desperation that the economy – something he is rated more highly on – improves by November but also hopes that if Covid cases are decreasing then Democratic calls for lockdown will appear unreasonable.
Equally dependent on outside events is Trump’s charge that Biden is a stooge for the ‘radical left’. This attack line has struggled in recent weeks to pick up much traction, with Biden offering speeches that outlined a moderate agenda, or in many cases no policy at all. Yet here the President is relying on the violent scenes taking place in states like Wisconsin being repeated.
In contrast to the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, more attention this week after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha has been on the violence and looting that followed. If focus on the latter remains during the campaign, then Trump hopes such charges against Biden will stick.
‘Make no mistake, if you give power to Joe Biden, the radical left will Defund Police Departments all across America. They will make every city look like Democrat-run Portland or Kenosha. No one will be safe in Biden’s America’
Yet this is where the paradox in the Trump campaign lies. He continues, despite being President for four years to proclaim himself as the insurgent outsider. The President repeated numerous examples of him going against ‘Washington insiders’. They ‘asked me not to stand up to China, but I kept my promise to the American people’.
This message needs something to oppose, it needs something for Trump to say he is fighting to protect people from. In recent weeks he has struggled to move the narrative of the campaign past charges against him of his character, handling of the pandemic, and racial discrimination.
His speech last night outlined his position in this campaign. But for it to be successful he relies on events outside of his control.