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Republican Convention: Best and Worst Moments From Mike Pence Night

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Credit…Illustration by The New York Times; Photographs by Tom Brenner/Reuters, Doug Mills/The New York Times, Pete Marovich for The New York Times



Welcome to Opinion’s commentary for Night 3 of the Republican National Convention. In this special feature, Times Opinion writers rank the evening on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 means the night was a disaster for Republicans; 10 means it could lead to a big polling bump for the Trump-Pence ticket. Here’s what our columnists and contributors thought of the event, which featured Richard Grenell, Lara Trump, Kellyanne Conway and Vice President Mike Pence.

Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Wajahat Ali I just cannot rate this R.N.C. by any traditional metric. There were fewer Hatch Act violations tonight, so there’s that.

Jamelle Bouie Vice President Pence’s speech. Not because it was good — it was, in style and content, the most generic speech I have ever heard from a Republican politician — but because Pence is such a smooth speaker that it can sound, at times, like a parody of a politician. This is especially true when he adopts this staccato. rhythm. for. emphasis. It was very silly to me, and I was entertained.

Elizabeth Bruenig Trace Adkins’s soulful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Sure, Adkins is no Jimi Hendrix, but neither was this Woodstock. For the patriotic-bunting-draped, red-brick enclosure of Fort McHenry, nothing less than the auteur of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” would do.

Frank Bruni I can see why the rumor that Kristi Noem, the South Dakota governor, would replace Mike Pence on the ticket got traction. She’s something else. Trump as Abe Lincoln? Martin Luther King Jr. as the Republican Party’s muse? She kept a straight face. Tom Cotton and Nikki Haley just got very nervous about 2024.

Linda Chavez Karen Pence was the most relatable speaker of the evening. She reminded me of the Republican women who stuffed envelopes when I ran in 1986 as the G.O.P. nominee for U.S. Senate from Maryland. She made her pitch for a second term by talking about small businesses and military families, without attacking Democrats as radicals and socialists, or trying to scare voters into thinking violent mobs control our cities and will invade our suburbs if Democrats win in November.

Michelle Cottle Representative Dan Crenshaw. In a night short on fresh moments or sparkle, this up-and-comer delivered a speech with a dollop of inspiration and uplift.

Nicole Hemmer After detailing her harrowing experiences with preventive mastectomy, Kayleigh McEnany delivered a fierce defense of the Affordable Care Act, explaining how vital it is that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions. Weird that she did it at the Republican Convention, though, given that Trump is still trying to gut the A.C.A.

Nicholas Kristof Kayleigh McEnany spoke in a deeply personal way that humanized President Trump in a way his children didn’t.

Matt Labash I like to laugh at Trumpsters as much as the next guy, just to stay in game-shape. But tonight’s first hour-and-a-half was as good as Republicans get. (Probably because Trump himself came nowhere near it.) Lots of duty-honor-country talk. Talk that moves middle Americans. And yet the best moments Republicans will have this entire convention won’t come in the arena, but outside of it, on the street. With all the violence, arson and looting that have now plagued our cities for three months, as feckless governors and mayors make excuses for not restoring order, they are giving Trump his best and possibly only shot at re-election. Even if he doesn’t deserve it.

Liz Mair The video on women’s suffrage was well done and highlighted some great Republican history that unfortunately feels a bit too distant and remote. That’s probably why it, along with the other stuff aimed at attracting suburban centrist women, won’t end up working as intended.

Daniel McCarthy Richard Grenell delivered a succinct and compelling statement of the Trump doctrine: “America First” means fewer wars, greater burden-sharing among allies and clearer recognition of the economic and strategic threats posed by Communist China.

Bret Stephens The blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng’s speech, calling on Americans to face up to the global threat of the Chinese Communist Party. Amid partisan ranting, it was a brief but sobering moment of moral and geopolitical seriousness.

Mimi Swartz This night was blessedly less hysterical than the previous one. And thanks for the celebration of American heroes, like health care workers and our hard-working military.

Héctor Tobar The first half of Kayleigh McEnany’s speech, an account of her battle to prevent breast cancer. Unfortunately, in the second half, she placed this same story at the service of the G.O.P.’s culture wars.

Peter Wehner Dan Crenshaw’s speech, which was a moving tribute to those he served with in war and an eloquent articulation of heroism. He was also wise enough, in a speech about wartime sacrifice and heroism, not to mention Donald Trump.

Will Wilkinson Mike Pence feels like he’s an actor or an undercover alien spy doing a low-key spoof of a Republican’s idea of a good Republican movie president. But he actually is vice president, so that makes the fact that he reads as a slyly satirical, overly glossy C.G.I. simulation of a Republican statesman both confusing and disconcerting. You half expect him to pull off his face, reveal his true Lizard Person self and bellow “YOU UTTER GULLIBLE FOOLS!” Anyway, his performance was a masterful, pitch-perfect sendup of what I always imagined fascism would look like when it came to America.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Wajahat Ali It takes a remarkable degree of chutzpah and shamelessness to trot out Black speakers to attack Black Lives Matter and promote Trump as the heir of Lincoln and steward of civil rights, while a Trump supporter, Kyle Rittenhouse, was arrested and charged with shooting and killing two people in Kenosha, Wis. People of color were brought out to launder Trump’s cruelty and racism and paint an upside-down version of reality that I thought only existed in the Twilight Zone.

Jamelle Bouie It makes sense that a party would want to feature its rising stars, but they probably should have thought twice before giving a platform to Madison Cawthorn, previously seen celebrating his vacation visit in 2017 to Adolf Hitler’s summer home with three photographs on Instagram. (“Seeing the Eagles Nest has been on my bucket list for a while, it did not disappoint. Strange to hear so many laughs and share such a good time with my brother where only 79 years ago a supreme evil shared laughs and good times with his compatriots.”)

Elizabeth Bruenig It was a competitive night, but Lara Trump’s stilted, halting speech about herself (mainly) was the low point. Many commentators turned their best elocution barbs on Kim Guilfoyle, who spoke on Monday, but Lara really showed us how a lousy speech is done: dull, drowsy and self-aggrandizing. Ms. Trump reminded all the ladies listening that they, too, can do anything if they marry the son of a billionaire.

Frank Bruni Does the Trump family have an initiation ritual that tests the ability to sell total bunk as gospel truth? Lara Trump passed! Her portrait of the Trumps as tender nurturers would be a revelation to Mary Trump and Maryanne Trump Barry. And “down to earth?” That’s belied by every bauble Ivanka ever hawked and every exotic animal Donald Jr. ever killed.

Linda Chavez Mike Pence’s accusation that Biden has not said a word about the violence in our cities over the last week was an outright lie. After speaking with the mother of Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back multiple times by the police in Kenosha, Wis., the campaign released a video today, where he said: “You know, as I said after George Floyd’s murder, protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary. But burning down communities is not protest, it’s needless violence.”

Michelle Cottle Rabbi Aryeh Spero. At a political convention, you expect a glut of spin, ideological meanness and general folderol. What you don’t expect is an opening prayer with all that. Spero even slipped Trump’s MAGA motto into his holy entreaty. Gross.

Nicole Hemmer Whitewashing far-right violence is a hallmark of the Trump administration, so it’s no surprise Mike Pence joined in. He praised an officer “who was shot and killed during the riots in Oakland,” failing to mention that the person charged with the crime was part of a far-right extremist movement — a notable omission after the killings in Kenosha.

Nicholas Kristof Er, the worst three hours: the refusal even to discuss climate change as Hurricane Laura bore down on the Gulf Coast.

Matt Labash Like most Americans, I lost sleep, staying up all night waiting to receive the words of the electrifying Mike Pence. (JK! I’d rather watch fingernails grow.) I wouldn’t buy a used Hyundai from this guy, let alone buy what he tells me about Donald Trump. He is the perfect embodiment of insincere sincerity. He doesn’t believe a word he says, and I don’t either. The only thing he believes in any longer is how high D.J.T. tells him to jump — over the shark, over the chasm of respectability, etc. The greatest gift Donald Trump has given us, is making Mike Pence completely unviable to be a future president of the United States. For that, we owe him.

Liz Mair Pence was so exceedingly boring that he made me pine for a second night of Kim Guilfoyle and her yelling and Donald Trump Jr. and his weird eyes.

Daniel McCarthy Lara Trump was one Trump too many. There was nothing wrong with her remarks, but adding another family member beyond the nominee’s wife and children was too much. Her prime-time slot could have been better used by someone else.

Bret Stephens Mike Pence got in a few good shots at Joe Biden, but his delivery and expression reminded me of the “before” scene in a laxative commercial.

Mimi Swartz The former diplomat Richard Grenell’s straight-faced distortion of Trump’s failed foreign policies. Let’s fact-check Trump’s “close” personal friendship with Angela Merkel. Runner-up: Pence’s retreaded attack-dog speech. Loved his proud mom, though.

Héctor Tobar The prerecorded speeches (and even the prayer) attacking social justice protesters, airing not long after the nation learned that social justice protesters were killed in Wisconsin.

Peter Wehner Senator Marsha Blackburn. Comparing Democrats to Communist China is stupid even by the standards of this R.N.C. So was her argument that Democrats want to “destroy” our heroes so “government can control us.” There are certainly valid reasons to criticize Democrats, but this kind of witless attack is commonplace among Republicans in the Trump era.

Will Wilkinson I’m still reeling from Kayleigh McEnany’s claim that Donald Trump “stands by Americans with pre-existing conditions” because she has a pre-existing genetic condition that led her to seek preventive surgery, and afterward Trump gave her an encouraging phone call. Look, Trump personally supporting a person who had surgery because of a pre-existing medical condition is not the same thing as Trump supporting access to affordable health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. He doesn’t. But his press secretary’s awkwardly confessional bit of sophistry seems to be the best the campaign could do to shore up one of his most grievous electoral liabilities.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Wajahat Ali Pence has debased himself to new lows. He told us that he was not his mother’s favorite person on the Trump-Pence ticket. But he also had the audacity to lie and say that Biden presented no platform when the Republicans didn’t even bother to update their platform from 2016. What would Jesus do? Not this.

Jamelle Bouie The entire play of the convention thus far has been Morning in America Redux, presenting the United States as having been made great again and well on the way to recovery. The problem is that this isn’t true. The country is facing multiple overlapping crises, Americans feel anxious and stressed and the immediate future holds a lot of pain for a lot of people. The convention barely gestured at these facts, which made it feel false and, for this viewer, disingenuous.

Elizabeth Bruenig By far the snooziest installment of the convention thus far. One wonders if the party meant to reassure old-fashioned business conservatives or if nobody felt particularly peppy with a hurricane flirting with Category 5 about to make landfall along Texas’s petrochemical corridor. Whatever the reason, it had the uneasy, ominous air of the calm before a storm.

Frank Bruni Given the Democrats’ lavish homage to Democratic presidents and other party luminaries from the recent past, the Republicans’ erasure of analogous figures is striking. It’s born partly of necessity: Many of these missing Republicans deplore Trump. But it also reflects his vanity and affirms the party’s transformation into a personality cult.

Linda Chavez Much of the night was spent portraying Donald Trump as a pro-woman and pro-Black president. They paraded out female speakers from the Trump family, the White House, Congress and even a nun, while Black speakers tried to convince us that, despite his words and actions, he is no racist.

Michelle Cottle A major theme was that Trump is a champion of law enforcement while Joe Biden would abandon America to criminals and radical mobs. Expect to hear much more of this as Team Trump tries to blame Democrats for the mayhem that has attended some of the racial justice protests in cities like Portland, Minneapolis and, now, Kenosha, Wis.

Nicole Hemmer Some conventions celebrate the previous four years, some work to explain them. This convention has tried to erase them. Muslim ban? Kids in cages? Racist slurs? Clearing out peaceful protesters outside the White House? Never happened! Trump’s administration is now one of diversity, inclusion and lawfulness — if you just forget the past four years.

Nicholas Kristof Impeding the messaging was the arrest of a Trump supporter for the Wisconsin shootings, as well as the hurricane bearing down on the Texas and Louisiana coasts. The G.O.P. has been oblivious to threats from right-wing gun-toting terrorists and from climate change.

Matt Labash You can accuse Trump of a lot of things, but never of being boring. And yet, his convention has become kind of boring. A protracted civics lesson. A tedious lecture. Where’s the fun? Why not break it up with a musical number? Say, Ted Nugent singing “Cat Scratch Fever,” then biting the head off a live elk. He could either grill it on the spot, medium-well, or if there’s no time for that, he could just serve it raw to Pam Bondi.

Liz Mair A lot of the program was prerecorded and speeches finalized before news out of Kenosha, Wis., broke on Wednesday, so it’s not surprising that other than Mike Pence, the speakers couldn’t and didn’t address the events there. But that will not make sense to average Americans tuning in. A lot of people will conclude that the G.O.P. does not care, when that may not be right — but not being able to improvise at all will make them look like the stereotypical scripted, poll-tested politicians that everyone hates.

Daniel McCarthy The night successfully integrated optimism and urgency, and the apparently risky choice of speakers like Jack Brewer paid off. They gave the impression of a party whose populism is broad as well as firmly conservative.

Bret Stephens A much less effective night than the first two. The line that kept running through my head was the one from “Airplane”: “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.”

Mimi Swartz The talk of the Republican Party of the past served only to underscore the failures of the Republican Party of the present. And that much ballyhooed pardon of Susan B. Anthony begged a question: How would Trump describe her if she were protesting today?

Héctor Tobar Did the production budget run out? Couldn’t think of any new White House stunts? On this third night, the G.O.P. convention infomercial seemed to be running out of creative inspiration. It was a series of talking heads, repeating the same attacks against a mythical far-left menace. All this made for boring television. Only Mike Pence’s angry squint breathed any life into the evening.

Peter Wehner Republicans are trying to turn Joe Biden into an anti-cop, anti-law-and-order, pro-violence-in-the-streets radical. Biden has to push back hard against this narrative. (He wisely did that on Wednesday.) One other thing struck me: Kellyanne Conway portrayed her boss not just as a champion of women, but as a man who respects them. Try again, Kellyanne. Donald Trump is a misogynist and sexual predator. If Trump were a Democrat, women like Ms. Conway would relentlessly — and rightly — criticize him for it.

Will Wilkinson Nearly every speech was a mind-numbing stream of clichés, bromides and potted tropes. The lack of anything like a fresh thought (or even a fresh angle on an old thought) and the total void of creativity, eloquence and oratorical art are far from the most damning things about the proceedings. But it’s important to recognize that the really damning stuff flies because of what we’ve seen of this party and its convention: a hostility to thought and a tendency to mistake strings of reflexive stock phrases for thinking.

About the authors

Jamelle Bouie, Frank Bruni, Nicholas Kristof and Bret Stephens are Times columnists.

Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) is a playwright, lawyer and contributing opinion writer.

Elizabeth Bruenig (@ebruenig) is a Times opinion writer.

Linda Chavez, a former Reagan White House director of public liaison, is a political commentator.

Michelle Cottle (@mcottle) is a member of the Times editorial board.

Nicole Hemmer (@pastpunditry) is an associate research scholar at Columbia University and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.”

Matt Labash, a former national correspondent at The Weekly Standard, is the author of “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader.”

Liz Mair (@LizMair), a strategist for campaigns by Scott Walker, Roy Blunt, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry, is the founder and president of Mair Strategies.

Daniel McCarthy (@ToryAnarchist) is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Quarterly.

Mimi Swartz (@mimiswartz), an executive editor at Texas Monthly, is a contributing opinion writer.

Héctor Tobar (@TobarWriter), an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, is the author of “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free” and a contributing opinion writer.

Peter Wehner (@Peter_Wehner), a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who served in the previous three Republican administrations, is a contributing opinion writer and the author of “The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.”

Will Wilkinson (@willwilkinson), the vice president for research at the Niskanen Center, is a contributing opinion writer.

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