Had Donald Trump conducted the kind of presidency portrayed on a truth-bending but stylistically sound first night of the Republican National Convention, he might not be in such a desperate fight for a second term.

The President was presented as a statesman and an inspiration, an almost benevolent force, a friend to Black Americans, an unparalleled hostage negotiator and a shield against an assault on American values who is riding high after a coherent first term in a package designed to appeal strongly to conservative voters. It was an impression of Trump that was often at odds with the reality of the most turbulent divisive presidency in generations — one that critics see as a threat to American democracy itself.
Trump’s most high profile defenders had to project onto Democrats the faults that his accusers see embodied in his approach to politics.
“We seek a nation that rises together, not falls apart in anarchy and anger. We know that the only way to overcome America’s challenges is to embrace America’s strength,” former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said, in a speech that sent her already-intense 2024 primary buzz off the charts.
“We must choose the only candidate who has and who will continue delivering on that vision,” she said.
A more familiar blast of Trumpism came from the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who mocked Democratic nominee Joe Biden as “The Loch Ness Monster of the swamp.”
“It’s almost like this election is shaping up to be church, work, and school vs. rioting, looting and vandalism,” Trump Jr. said.
It was a night marked by constant tension between the more aspirational approach of Haley and the full bore anger of the President’s son. In many ways, the well-produced opening night exhibited far more discipline than Trump typically shows himself — most recently in a divisive monologue in North Carolina on Monday morning that contained corrosive claims not backed up by evidence that Democrats were trying to steal November’s election. The convention version of the President also bore little resemblance to the daily drama of assaults on the rule of law, divisive racial rhetoric and erratic leadership that fueled Democratic warnings he’s a threat to US democracy.
And a slick convention video presented a misleading picture of a pandemic in which nearly 180,000 Americans have already died, exacerbated by Trump’s negligence and prioritizing of his political ambitions over science.
Such contradictions pointed to a truism about Trump that may explain his current deficit to Biden (he is down nine points in the CNN Poll of Polls.) The scripted, presented version of the President offered on Monday and in set piece events like the State of the Union address is not authentic and is very likely unsustainable.
In many ways, especially in searing speeches by Trump Jr. and a roof-lifting tirade from his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, the evening was a familiar base appeal which confounded GOP promises of an “uplifting” night.
Patty McCloskey, who along with her husband confronted Black Lives Matter protesters outside her home, warned with stark racial suggestion: “What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country.”