And for much of America it was probably effective.
Am I saying it was a speech that made viewers forget what a terrible convention the GOP put on? No, because I don't think this was a terrible convention for the GOP. I understand the conventional wisdom about the first three days, and I'm not denying that Team Trump had a few faceplants. Not checking Melania's speech for plagiarism was a rookie error, compounded by the decision to keep the story in the headlines for days. The Ted Cruz speech was a humiliation, even if the Trumpites turned the humiliation right back on Cruz.
But these are things ordinary undecided Americans don't care about. They're about process. They matter to political insiders and politics mavens. They don't matter to Joe Sixpack in the heartland. So, no, I don't think this convention was a "dumpster fire," a phrase I'm as tired of now as I was of "clown car" during the Republican primaries. Maybe the GOP field was a clown car. But we got John Wayne Gacy as the nominee.
And just to finish what I started in that last paragraph: No, I don't think allowing Cruz to go on so he could be booed was an act of sinister brilliance on the Trumpites' part -- or maybe it was, but again, ordinary voters don't care.
Ordinary voters care about their own lives, and the lives of members of their tribes. They have anxieties, sometimes half formed, about the state of the country and the world.
It isn't just that Trump's speech successfully tapped into the anxieties of many Americans -- it's that the entire convention did, in between all the things that were so fascinating to political insiders. And while the four days of speeches, up to and including Trump's own, didn't provide solutions beyond "Donald Trump will magically fix everything because he's all-powerful," they did offer up a scapegoat for all the world's ills: Hillary Clinton, the worst person in the world.
I'm not supposed to worry about this because the presidential electoral is supposedly etched in stone: Yes, older whites always vote Republican, and whites are a majority, but they're a dwindling majority; Barack Obama built a coalition that can't lose a presidential election anymore. But Obama's coalition never stopped liking him; his approval/disapproval numbers always hovered within a few points of 50-50, and those who approved of him really admired him. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has a 40%/58% favorable/unfavorable rating right now, according to the average at Huffington Post's Pollster. To win in November, she needs the votes of a lot of people who simply don't like her and don't trust her. So why are we so certain the Obama coalition will turn out for her?
In the Obama years, we've seen dogma-driven Republicans expand their near-monopoly on white people's votes from the South to supposedly blue parts of the North -- see the governors' mansions in Maine, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. I know -- they won because the Democrats' presidential electorate doen't show up in off years. But which electorate will show up for Hillary Clinton if she doesn't get her disapproval ratings down?
If she wins, it will be because Trump isn't trying very hard to appeal to voters outside his base. He's gone out of his way to insult Hispanics and Muslims. Despite his painstaking enunciation of the acronym "LGBTQ" in last night's speech, he's unlikely to win over many voters from that community, for all his post-Orlando pandering -- not after he picked a running mate who signed a discriminatory "religious freedom" bill as governor. And he didn't even try to pander last night to African-American voters -- he doubled and tripled down on rhetoric that was unconditionally pro-police, on a day when we watched a cop shoot an unarmed black mental health worker lying on the pavement with his hands raised in the air in a gesture of surrender and self-abnegation.
Insiders think Trump's speech was a missed opportunity:
After reading the speech, Paul Begala, a longtime Democratic strategist and speechwriter, called the missing personal details “an enormous mistake.”But from his TV show and books and media gossip, Americans think they already know Trump's "mythic arc." He rode in from Queens and remade the Manhattan skyline! He can make deals better than anyone on earth! Everything he touches turns to gold! And he gets the most beautiful women!
“The American people,” he said, “need to know their president’s mythic arc.”
This is why all the media talk about the convention's incompetence is irrelevant: If you plan to vote for Trump or even think you might, you probably believe he's extraordinarily capable by definition. You probably come from a community where there isn't a building nearly as tall as Trump Tower, and there's no one nearly as rich as Trump. You have no idea that there are many developers who are more successful than Trump in New York, many buildings much taller, many fat cats much richer. He's as good as it gets!
So is all this working? Up to a point, yes:
Donald Trump is enjoying a mid-convention bump in the polls, surging to within striking distance of Hillary Clinton in a national survey released Thursday.Ruters-Ipsos was one of Clinton's best polls, and now Trump is within shouting distance in this poll. Other polls show an even tighter race.
The Reuters-Ipsos rolling national poll, which includes data collected from three of the four days of the Republican National Convention, shows Clinton leading Trump by 4 points, 40 percent to 36 percent.
That’s a far closer race than the same poll found only one week ago, when Clinton led by 15 points, 46.5 to 31.5.
I agree -- it probably won't be enough, given how many people Trump has offended. But I was hearing that this convention was so awful Clinton might get a bump from both conventions. That won't happen.
I agree with the poll prediction Chris Hayes made yesterday afternoon:
My expectation is that Trump will a) perform well tonight b) be tied w/ HRC or a little up on her coming out of the convention.— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 21, 2016
After that, I think Trump will probably fade -- but barely. He's what a lot of Americans want, and they vote.
Or Hillary Clinton could blow this. The polls could be underestimating Trump's popularity as they underestimated Brexit's popularity.
It's going to be scarily close. So please miss me with the phrase "dumpster fire."