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Republicans promised optimism. On night one, they delivered something else

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Delegates cheer as President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence stand on stage during the first day of the Republican National Convention
Delegates cheer as President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence stand on stage during the first day of the Republican National Convention on Aug. 24, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — So much for the promise of an optimistic and upbeat convention.

In the first night of speeches at their four-day convention, featured Republican speakers railed against “cancel culture,” “Woketopia” and tearing down monuments; they claimed Democrats wanted to defund the police and “abolish” the suburbs; and they accused Joe Biden and Kamala Harris of wanting to build a “socialist” future for the country and control how Americans live.

Behind in the polls, the intent was clear: Most of these speakers weren’t trying to win over the middle of the electorate — they were simply trying to win back disaffected Republicans (the same voters Democrats were trying to appeal to on their first night last week).

For all of the attention on the 1988 convention, when George H.W. Bush was trailing but roared back to victory, maybe the better comparison to last night’s convention was Bush 41 in 1992.

That was the last time an incumbent president trailed by this much in the polls in the summer before the November election.

And at that 1992 GOP convention, Republican speakers accused Bill Clinton of dodging the draft, of being a failed governor.

There were two exceptions to last night’s fire and brimstone, however. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., delivered more hopeful addresses that could have been part of past GOP conventions — like George W. Bush’s in 2000 or Mitt Romney’s in 2012.

“Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime. And that’s why I believe the next American century can be better than the last,” Scott said.

But the rest of last night’s speeches?

If you don’t regularly watch “Fox and Friends” or listen to Rush Limbaugh or tune into Sean Hannity, you might not have understood half of the things they said.

Our colleague Alex Seitz-Wald put it this way: “The RNC is CPAC now.”

Tweet of the day

Alternative facts

Yesterday we asked how Republicans would try to sell hope and optimism – given the nearly 180,000 Americans killed by the coronavirus, as well as a current unemployment rate of 10.2 percent.

We got our answer: By largely ignoring those two realities.

Speaker after speaker praised the pre-COVID economy, but they brushed aside the layoffs, the closed businesses and all of the other disruption that the coronavirus has caused.

“Before communist China gave us the coronavirus, we were breaking economic records left and right. The pandemic has set us back, but not for long,” Haley said.

And last night’s speakers also claimed that Trump’s actions regarding the coronavirus saved thousands of lives, but they didn’t mention the current death toll – greater than in any other country.

It was almost as if convention speakers were asking the American public to judge Trump on what America looked like on Feb. 1, 2020.

And not what it looks like now.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

5,761,309: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 40,745 more than yesterday morning.)

178,388: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 660 more than yesterday morning.)

72.38 million: The number of coronavirus tests administered in the U.S., according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

About 33 percent: The share of employees who were placed on furlough in March who permanently lost their jobs in July, per a new study.

More than 900: The number of health care workers who have died in the fight against COVID-19.

Two-thirds: The share of Black and Latino voters who say they prefer to vote in person.

2020 Vision: Day Two’s lineup for the GOP convention

Tonight’s speakers for the second night of the Republican convention include:

  • First Lady Melania Trump (from the White House Rose Garden)
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
  • Eric Trump
  • Tiffany Trump
  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
  • Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar

As the Republicans take center stage with their convention, they’re abandoning the advertising airwaves.

The Trump campaign is dark on the television airwaves today, according to Advertising Analytics, outside of the $43,000 booked for Washington D.C. And its only radio spending is in Albuquerque and El Paso.

It’s the same story the rest of the convention week, with no other television spending booked outside of D.C., where Trump won 4 percent of the vote in 2016.

From Tuesday through Friday, the Biden campaign has more than $9 million booked on the TV and radio airwaves — including $3 million in Florida, $1.5 million in Pennsylvania, $1.3 million in North Carolina, $1.1 million in Wisconsin and almost $1 million in both Michigan and Arizona.

Certainly, the convention is a great source of free media. And this year, tightly-produced speeches and packages ensure that the party can control the message.

But at least for this week, the Trump campaign appears to be resting on that publicity alone, instead of trying to boost the president in key states with a parallel TV advertising effort.

Postmaster general on the hot seat

There were some fireworks on the Hill on Monday when Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified before the House Oversight Committee.

In a back-and-forth with Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif.,, DeJoy wasn’t able to name the price of mailing a postcard, the rate of priority mail or how many people who voted by mail in the last election.

Porter concluded her line of questioning with, “I’m concerned about your understanding of this agency.”

And when DeJoy was asked about the removal of mail sorting machines, DeJoy said there wasn’t enough funding to reinstate those machines without a substantial increase of a budget. Here’s what DeJoy told California Rep. Ro Khanna, “get me the billion [dollars] and I’ll put the machines in.”

The Lid: Are you better off?

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at a key political question that Republicans will spend this week asking at their convention.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

As always, if you missed last night’s convention action, our live blog has you covered.

And here’s NBC’s fact check of the big speeches.

After a day of back-and-forth, Jerry Falwell Jr. told the Wall Street Journal that he IS resigning from his post at Liberty University.

Jeff Flake endorsed Joe Biden.

Protests are continuing in Kenosha after a Black man was shot in the back by police.

Diplomats are unhappy with Mike Pompeo for delivering an RNC speech from Jerusalem.

TikTok is suing the Trump administration.

The New York Times looks at the links between racial discrimination and city heat.

Trump’s approval rating has been pretty stable heading into the convention, our latest NBC|SurveyMonkey poll finds.