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Republican Convention Theme: Democrats Are A Threat To American Life

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump promised a convention that would be uplifting and positive as a response to the Democrats. There were a lot of moments last night that did not seem to fulfill that promise.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2020 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION)

DONALD TRUMP JR: Joe Biden and the radical left are now coming for our freedom of speech. They want to bully us into submission. If they get their way, it will no longer be the silent majority; it will be the silenced majority.

GREENE: The voice there of the president's son, Donald Trump Jr. The theme of night one of the Republican convention was the Democrats are a threat to American life, and the president is a caring man who is needed to bring this country back from a pandemic. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe was watching all of it play out. Good morning, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Let's start with how the president was portrayed on night one.

RASCOE: Yeah, the convention offered some moments that seemed to be meant to show a softer side of Trump. There was a group conversation with American hostages freed with the help of the administration. There was a speech by a cancer survivor who received experimental treatment under a right-to-try policy backed by the president. There was also Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was killed in the shooting in Parkland, Fla. He talked about how he felt like Trump really listened to him after that tragedy.

Jim Jordan, the Ohio congressman who's usually very vocal about defending the president, he talked about a time when Trump comforted a relative who lost his son. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2020 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION)

JIM JORDAN: I walked through the door and said, Todd, the president wants to talk to you. For the next five minutes, family and friends sat in complete silence as the president of the United States took time to talk to a dad who was hurting. That's the president I've gotten to know the last four years.

RASCOE: It was all a very clear response to messaging we heard about Joe Biden last week, you know, Biden being described as an empathetic person who can relate to people because he has suffered many personal tragedies.

GREENE: Well, Ayesha, I mean, Republicans have criticized the Democratic convention for painting this dark picture of America, but it sounds like Republicans are saying that if Democrats - if Joe Biden's elected, there will be a dark America. Is that what we're getting from them?

RASCOE: That's basically what they're saying. When it comes to a Biden presidency, a potential Biden presidency, it wasn't a very bright picture that they were painting. The biggest message was that Democrats are radical and will, you know, change America. There were many efforts to paint the party as socialist, including a Cuban exile warning about what might happen to the U.S. if Biden were elected. They were trying to paint Joe Biden as someone who will bow to the far-left wing of the party, even though he's known as a centrist Democrat.

Here's former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2020 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION)

NIKKI HALEY: Last time Joe's boss was Obama. This time it would be Pelosi, Sanders and the squad. Their vision for America is socialism, and we know that socialism has failed everywhere. They want to tell Americans how to live and what to think.

RASCOE: And it got really dark at times, as speakers painted a picture of America - what America would be like with Democrats in control. Kimberly Guilfoyle, adviser to the Trump campaign and girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr. said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2020 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION)

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think and believe so that they can control how you live.

RASCOE: So a very forceful argument that Trump is protecting the American way of life.

GREENE: Well, as you took all of this in last night, could you get a sense for who the target audience is?

RASCOE: It really seemed to be aimed at white suburban voters, especially women. The messages seemed to be aimed at raising the fear of - raising fear of crime. There were some Black Trump supporters who spoke, and their message seemed to be that Trump is not racist. They pushed back on the Democratic Party, saying that they take the Black vote for granted.

And probably the strongest pushback of the night on Biden came from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2020 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION)

TIM SCOTT: In 1994, Biden led the charge on a crime bill that put millions of Black Americans behind bars. President Trump's criminal justice reform law fixed many of the disparities Biden created and made our system more fair and just for all Americans.

RASCOE: And so Biden has certainly taken heat for that 1994 crime bill, you know, but the Obama administration did back changes to sentencing for certain drug charges and commuted a record number of sentences. So there was support for criminal justice reform before Trump.

GREENE: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe onto Night 2. Ayesha, thanks.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.