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5 takeaways from the RNC, Night 3: A presidential Pence, personal stories, law and order

The vice president closed out the convention night with attacks on Biden and praise for his boss.
Image: 2020 Republican National Convention
Vice President Mike Pence, with his wife, Karen, gave his acceptance speech Wednesday at Fort McHenry in Baltimore.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — On the third night of their national convention, Republicans warned "you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America" while largely ignoring that more than 1,000 people are dying every day on average of the coronavirus pandemic.

Vice President Mike Pence joined other speakers in suggesting Trump is the only thing standing between good, peaceable citizens and violent mobs, rampant abortion and the end of America as we know it.

"Keep America America," said Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law. "Make America Great Again — again," Pence added.

Here are five takeaways from Wednesday's GOP convention.

1. Pence steps up

If comedian Keegan-Michael Key is Barack Obama's "anger translator," Pence is Donald Trump’s "presidential translator."

Pence, who spoke from a beautifully lit and staged Fort McHenry — where a British attack during the War of 1812 inspired the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner" — adopted some of Trump’s rhetorical hallmarks. He blamed China for the coronavirus, raged against "rioting and looting" and said, "Tearing down statues is not free speech."

But he also struck a far more traditionally presidential tone — the kind of Trump often mocks. He squinted into the camera meaningfully. Read slowly and carefully from the teleprompter. He offered condolences to Americans. And spoke in the classic rhetorical flourishes and turns-of-phrases of political pabulum.

In other words, he sounds like Trump might if he decided to act like a more traditional president.

Pence was a conservative talk show host and tea party-favorite congressman long before Trump ran for president. And a lengthy biographic video that preceded his speech, which had all the trappings of a presidential campaign launch, hinted Pence may want to succeed Trump, too.

2. "The most pro-life president"

Abortion was major theme Wednesday, with a Roman Catholic nun calling Trump "the most pro-life president that this nation has ever had" and former football coach Lou Holtz calling Biden and other Democrats "Catholics in name only" because they support abortion rights. (Biden is a practicing Catholic who often speaks about his faith.)

Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn railed against COVID stay-home restrictions, saying, "They close our churches, but keep the liquor stores and abortion clinics open."

Trump may have called himself "very pro-choice" in 1999, but evangelical Christians are a critical pillar in the president's base and abortion is a top issue for them.

3.Two crises, few mentions

A Category 4 hurricane is bearing down on the Gulf Coast and 1,077 died of the coronavirus since the last night of the RNC on Tuesday. But that reality wasn't a focus — again. For the third night in a row, the global pandemic went largely unacknowledged.

Pence was the only speaker to substantively address either crisis and he spoke of the pandemic as if it were essentially over, promising a "miracle" of a vaccine coming soon and said civil unrest exploded "just as our nation has begun to recover" from the virus.

Few of the 100 or so people in the audience for Pence's speech wore masks.

Earlier, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said, "We will not be governed by an elite class of so-called experts" while Blackburn said Democrats want to "keep you locked in your house until you become dependent on the government for everything," which she said, "sounds a lot like Communist China to me."

4. Personal stories

The convention sought to soften some of its rougher edges with personal stories of struggle and anecdotes of Trump's kindness. Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, told of her difficult decision to have a double mastectomy after learning she had a BRCA gene raising her chances of breast cancer and receiving a call from Trump in the hospital as she recovered from surgery.

Madison Cawthorn, the 25-year-old congressional candidate who is almost certain to win a seat representing a heavily Republican North Carolina district, took the stage in a wheelchair and told of a car accident that left him partially paralyzed. And widower Sam Vigil credited Trump with finding the undocumented immigrant who allegedly killed his wife, a crime solved after Trump enlisted the FBI.

Biden’s empathy was a major theme of Democrats' convention last week and while Trump may never be associated with the warm-and-fuzzies, the personal stories may be aimed at trying to reassure on-the-fence Republicans that the president isn't as uncaring as he is sometimes portrayed.

5. Law and order

It's been one of the major themes of each night of the convention, which concludes Thursday. But the emphasis was especially strong Wednesday amid the unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. No one mentioned the 17-year-old white man who crossed state lines and killed two Black Lives Matter protesters and shot a third on Tuesday night.

Instead, they warned that "Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs," as Noem said.

"You won't be safe in Joe Biden’s America," Pence added.