WASHINGTON — Republicans used the first night of their convention to paint a dark view of a world without President Donald Trump, then whipsawed on the second night to feel-good stories aimed at women, minorities and traditional Republican voters. So what will Night 3 hold?
It will be Vice President Mike Pence’s big moment to make the case for why he and Trump deserve another four years in office. He’ll have the help of several other administration officials, like his onetime pollster Kellyanne Conway, who will be leaving her job as White House counselor at the end of the month, and Republican members of Congress facing tough races of their own, like Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa.
The evening will offer a bit of a change in scenery after two nights heavy on recorded speeches with the same camera angles from the same stage: Pence will give his speech from a former military fort in Baltimore best known as the site where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the War of 1812.
Here are four things to watch for on Night 3 of the Republican convention:
Given the venue, Pence is expected to give a speech heavy on patriotic themes while touching on a favorite culture war controversy over standing during the national anthem, said an administration official.
Despite Pence's status as one of the most high-profile speakers of the convention, his place on the ticket was in jeopardy just a few months ago as campaign advisers discussed whether replacing him would be the shake-up needed to reverse Trump’s sinking poll numbers, according to campaign and administration officials. Some advisers argued for having a woman on the ticket, such as former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, who spoke Monday night, or South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who will also be speaking on Wednesday night.
But the idea didn’t catch on with Trump, and as his poll numbers showed some signs of improvement in recent weeks, the move lost traction, said one campaign official. With Pence appearing to have cemented his spot on the ticket, he now has the task of selling Trump to some nervous conservative voters — specifically evangelicals, whose support for Trump has softened slightly.
For Pence, considered a possible contender for the Republican nomination in 2024, it will be one of his highest-profile moments in a term in which he has tended to take a back seat.
Days before she plans to leave the administration, Kellyanne Conway will give what is likely to be her last public address, at least for a while.
Conway, who led Trump’s 2016 campaign, is one of a handful of remaining faces from the early days of the administration. Few have rivaled her influence as a public attack dog for Trump and a private adviser, especially as his re-election has ramped up.
A longtime Republican pollster, she has a unique grasp within the White House of the best avenues to appeal to traditional conservative voters. She pushed Trump to resume his regular coronavirus briefings, something those close to the campaign attribute to helping boost his numbers recently in internal polling, particularly among seniors.
Conway said last week that the convention would paint a positive portrait of Trump's America. "Ours is going to be a right, uplifting, optimistic, forward-looking convention. Part progress report of the first four years, 47 months of Donald Trump's presidency versus the 47 years of Joe Biden in Washington."
Whither the coronavirus message?
Republicans devoted portions of Monday night to the coronavirus, playing up Trump’s response to the pandemic and acknowledging the efforts of health care workers and first responders. But by Tuesday night, coronavirus was only briefly touched on — and when it was mentioned, it was generally referred to in the past tense.
The White House has been able to take advantage of its rapid testing capacity for everyone who comes in contact with the president to make the coronavirus appear a thing of the past even as 1,000 people a day on average continue dying from the virus in the United States.
Few masks were seen during first lady Melania Trump’s Rose Garden address — and chairs weren't 6 feet apart — and no one interacting with Trump during segments filmed at the White House, such as the naturalization ceremony broadcast Tuesday night, had on a mask or was socially distanced.
But for most Americans — many of whom can’t leave the house without a mask on, or are likely to have children who aren’t going back into the classrooms because of the virus threat, or who may well have lost friends and loved ones, as well as their jobs, to the disease — the coronavirus is still very much present.
Pence, who has been in charge of the White House coronavirus task force, will be in a unique position to address the issue head on, and not just in selling the administration’s success but also in speaking to the loss, fear and uncertainty much of the country is still grappling with.
A choice, or a referendum
With the majority of Americans consistently disapproving of Trump's job as president, advisers know he needs to make the election a choice between him and Biden rather than a referendum on his first term.
But much of the convention so far has been focused on selling a candidate whom Americans have had four years to make up their mind about, with heavily produced videos touting his success, everyday people thanking him, and his family members giving their endorsements.
So far, the convention has done little in the choice category. While speakers have attacked Biden, most of the first two nights were all about Trump.
A big question for Night 3 will be whether the sales pitch for Trump gives way to heavy contrast with Biden.