WASHINGTON (AP) — Turbulent reality is clashing with the smooth, steady image Republicans are hoping to paint of President Donald Trump and his leadership on the third night of the GOP’s convention.
A potentially catastrophic hurricane is bearing down on the Gulf Coast, wildfires are ravaging huge areas of California, protests are growing in Wisconsin after the shooting of a Black man by police — and the still-raging coronavirus pandemic is killing more than 1,000 Americans a day.
Adding still another controversial element, late Wednesday pro basketball postponed three games after the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for an NBA playoff game because of Blake’s shooting. That was a few hours before Vice President Mike Pence was to speak from Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, where an 1814 battle inspired the National Anthem. Trump has strongly criticized athletes who kneel rather than stand during the anthem in protest of racial injustice.
The historic convergence of health, economic, environmental and social emergencies is only increasing the pressure on Trump, as he looks to reshape the contours of his lagging campaign against former Vice President Joe Biden with Election Day just 10 weeks off and early voting beginning much sooner.
The first nights of the convention included virtually no reference to the hurricane gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico or the California fires. A Las Vegas pastor did open the second night with a prayer for Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot in Kenosha, Wisconsin, prompting three nights of protests
Trump turned to Twitter on Wednesday to say his administration was engaged with state and local officials in areas in Hurricane Laura’s path. The storm was forecast to make landfall along the Louisiana-Texas border shortly after Pence concluded his keynote address Wednesday night.
Adding to the sense of convention uncertainty, another speaker was abruptly pulled from the lineup. The Trump campaign confirmed that Robert Unanue, the president and CEO of Goya Foods, would not be speaking Wednesday night, citing a “logistical problem.” Unanue’s appearance at the White House earlier this month and his praise of Trump sparked a boycott movement of his company’s products.
Also unclear was the status of a speech by former professional football player Jack Brewer. NPR reported late Tuesday that Brewer had been charged with insider trading by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this month. The campaign would not say definitively whether or not he would speak.
Organizers on Tuesday had pulled another featured speaker, “Angel Mom” Mary Ann Mendoza after she directed her Twitter followers to a series of anti-Semitic, conspiratorial messages hours before her pre-recorded segment was to air.
Wednesday night’s lineup was expected to include Clarence Henderson, who participated in the 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins for what Trump’s team said would be a discussion of “peaceful protest” and the president’s record of trying to help Black Americans.
“These achievements demonstrate that Donald Trump truly cares about black lives,” Henderson was to say. “His policies show his heart. He has done more for black Americans in four years than Joe Biden has done in 50.”
Convention speakers were also reinforcing Trump’s law-and-order message, warning that electing Biden would lead to violence in American cities spilling into the suburbs, a message with racist undertones. Trump on Wednesday tweeted about sending federal agents to Kenosha to help quell unrest, and the Justice Department said it was sending in the FBI and federal marshals.
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Michael McHale, the president of the National Association of Police Organizations, was to tell the convention, “The violence we are seeing in these and other cities isn’t happening by chance; it’s the direct result of elected leaders refusing to allow law enforcement to protect our communities.”
And Burgess Owens, a former NFL player now running for Congress in Utah, declared, “This November, we stand at a crossroads. Mobs torch our cities while popular members of Congress promote the same socialism my father fought against in World War II.”
While the coronavirus wrought havoc on Trump’s convention plans — he had to shelve plans for arena events in either North Carolina or Florida — it has thus far taken a back seat in the programming. However, Pence, the chair of the White House virus task force, was ready to defend the administration’s response in his remarks.
Before that, first lady Melania Trump was the most direct of any of the convention speakers in addressing the suffering wrought by the pandemic.
“My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one, and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering,” she said Tuesday night. “I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone.”
Pence was expected to spend much of his speech detailing the administration’s record on the economy and foreign policy, capping a lineup that would “showcase American heroes” and their stories, organizers said.
The night was to include remarks from the president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as well as several administration officials including departing Counselor Kellyanne Conway, the manager of Trump’s 2016 general election campaign, and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
Also speaking were former football coach Lou Holtz and Richard Grenell, the former acting director of national intelligence and ambassador to Germany.
The program also featured prominent female lawmakers, including Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Joni Ernst, as well as some of the party’s rising stars: Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. Reps. Dan Crenshaw of Texas and Lee Zeldin of New York, both Iraq War veterans, were appearing alongside more members of Trump’s family.
There were also less familiar faces. Sam Vigil, whose wife Jacqueline Vigil was shot and killed in her driveway in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and supports the president’s efforts deploying federal agents to cities with high crime rates, will speak, as will Scott Dane, the executive director of the Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota, Tara Myers, a school choice advocate, and Sister Dede Byrne, a missionary who performs medical work overseas, and Michael McHale, the president of the National Association of Police Organizations, which has endorsed Trump.
Republicans sought on Tuesday to show a more forgiving side of a combative president. The president pardoned a reformed felon and oversaw a naturalization ceremony for several immigrants, though he frequently states his vigorous opposition to more immigration, legal as well as illegal.
Those efforts, aimed at humanizing Trump’s image, also represented an unprecedented move to harness the trappings of the presidency to advance a political campaign. The naturalization ceremony took place inside the White House while Mrs. Trump spoke from the Rose Garden. Trump is to deliver his acceptance speech from the South Lawn of the White House Thursday evening.
Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas, Kevin Freking in Washington, Dave Bauder in New York and Aamer Madhani in Chicago contributed.
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