Tapping his roots as a television producer, Trump has been heavily involved in the planning for the four-day event, instructing organizers that he wanted to do more live programming and dynamic segments than the Democrats broadcast during their convention last week. However, it appears many speeches were pretaped for at least the convention’s first night as plans were scrambled due to the coronavirus.
The night began with a series of speeches from Republican activists and a small business owner from Montana who told the story of how her coffee shop was saved by coronavirus stimulus funding passed by Congress and signed by Trump into law.
“We caught them doing some really bad things in 2016. Let’s see what happens,” Trump told delegates Monday morning. “We have to be very careful because they’re trying it again, this whole 80 million mail-in ballots that they’re working on. Sending them out to people that didn’t ask for them. They didn’t ask, they just get them, and it’s not fair and it’s not right. And it’s not going to be possible to tabulate, in my opinion.”
And despite party officials’ promises of an optimistic, positive convention, early speakers followed Trump’s lead from earlier in the day and tore into Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, adopting Trump’s dark framing of a nation on the brink.
Charlie Kirk, founder of a key conservative students organization, warned that American freedoms were at risk from “bitter, deceitful, vengeful, arrogant activists.” School choice activist Rebecca Friedrichs warned that “unions are subverting our republic.” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said that Biden and Harris were a front for left-wing radicals.
“They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your house and invite MS-13 to live next door,” Gaetz said.
Monday night’s program features Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.; former Trump ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley; and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the party’s only Black senator who championed the GOP’s version of police reform after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.
Trump Jr., the night’s keynote speaker, will describe “Trump’s America as a land of opportunity — a place of promise” while Haley will argue that the President stood up for the United States in the world.
Trump is expected to speak during the program, including for a conversation with front-line workers who will join him at the White House to discuss the work they have been doing during the pandemic.
While there will be an audience when Trump delivers his address from the South Lawn on Thursday, sources tell CNN the RNC and Trump campaign scrapped plans to have a live audience at the Mellon Auditorium, where Trump Jr. and others will give their speeches on Monday. Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited in Washington, DC, due to the coronavirus pandemic and it became too much of a headache to figure out how to safely have an effective audience, an official involved in the planning told CNN.
Earlier Monday, Trump was formally nominated for reelection by cheering delegates.
As the delegates cheered him with the traditional “Four more years!” directed toward an incumbent president running for reelection, Trump said, “If you really want to drive them crazy, you say 12 more years.”
GOP tries to spin Trump’s handling of coronavirus pandemic
The party is seeking to frame Trump’s presidency this week as one defined by roaring success in the economy, focusing on gains in retail sales and the stock market despite the millions of people who have lost their job due to the nation’s Covid-19 shutdown earlier this year. And there was an entire segment Monday night devoted to changing the perception, shared by large majorities of voters, that Trump has mishandled the pandemic and was slow to act during the critical months of February and March.
In a video, the RNC misrepresented Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, repeating a flurry of falsehoods about Trump’s attitude towards a pandemic that has now killed nearly 180,000 Americans and that he initially denied would be a problem, then neglected and ignored.
A Louisiana surgeon, Dr G.E. Ghali said that Trump had torn down regulatory barriers to the development of vaccines and therapies. It is correct that the drive for a vaccine, in the US and elsewhere is moving at unusual speed — though not as quickly as the President says it is. But neither the video nor the speech explained why the United States has failed to put in place a national test and tracing system or why it has only 4% of the world’s population but has a quarter of its coronavirus infections.
Ghali said Trump “moved mountains to save lives.”
The party devoted more than 10 minutes attempting to alter public perceptions of Trump’s widely criticized handling of the coronavirus pandemic, choosing to take that issue “head on,” according to event organizers.
In his first surprise appearance of the night, he met with health care, law enforcement and other workers who have been on the front lines during the pandemic. Throughout the evening, other average Americans shared stories of how Trump’s actions have helped them survive the pandemic and the economic downturn, which led to tens of millions of Americans losing their jobs.
Despite attempts by Trump and Republicans to portray his response to the coronavirus as a success, the US is still the world’s leader in total cases and deaths.
While Trump has focused on his January 31 announcement that banned foreign nationals from China from entering the US, many medical experts say that he lost valuable time in February when he resisted making major moves to contain the virus, insisting that it would just go away.
He refused to ask the federal government to take the lead on Covid-19 testing or even for devising a plan to fight the pandemic, insisting that governors were responsible for ramping up testing and determining their own protocols — which led to wide variation in the response across the country.
He did not announce the coronavirus shutdown until mid-March and then berated governors who he believed were reopening their economies too slowly, even though many of them did not meet the criteria that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had set. Experts say that is one of the factors that led to a deadly summer surge in cases.
And it was not until July when Trump finally wore a mask publicly during a visit to wounded service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
There have, however, been some signs of progress. This past weekend, the seven-day average of coronavirus deaths dropped below 1,000 a day for the first time since July.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.