MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 26th of August, 2020. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It, and we’re so glad you are! Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: the Republican National Convention.
Last week, Democrats kicked off their convention with the first ever virtual event. This week it’s Republicans’ turn.
There are some similarities between the two conventions: Most of the participants are making speeches to empty ballrooms. And they’re facing the same technical and logistical challenges the rest of America has dealt with for the last six months. Let’s face it: sometimes video calls work well. Other times, not so much.
REICHARD: Both parties are focused on the same goal: Building enough voter enthusiasm to propel their candidates into the White House. But they are going about it in very different ways.
Well, it’s Washington Wednesday, and joining us now to dive into the differences is Jamie Dean. She is WORLD’s national editor and chief political reporter.
Good morning, Jamie!
JAMIE DEAN, GUEST: Good morning.
REICHARD: What are some of your take-aways from what you’ve seen so far from Republicans?
DEAN: Well, I think we may be seeing the core of President Trump’s re-election strategy, and that’s to rally the base.
We hear a lot about independent and swing voters, and I do think those voters will be important in the election.
But a CBS poll last week reported 96 percent of voters said they had already made up their minds about who they’re going to vote for in November. 96 percent. Now, those voters could certainly change their minds, but that survey does suggest an overwhelming majority of Americans already have a strong idea of who they’re going to choose.
So, I think one of the most important tasks over the next couple of months—for both candidates—is to motivate those voters to actually cast their ballots. That’s not a sure thing. But numerically, that may prove even more important than peeling off more persuadable voters.
REICHARD: In what ways have Republicans been appealing to the base?
DEAN: One of the most notable ways, I think, is by having President Trump appear every day of the convention.
That’s unusual. Typically, there’s a build up over the four days, and then the party’s nominee appears on the last night as a sort of culmination of the event.
But this year, Trump is slated to appear in the programming each night, sometimes in pre-recorded segments.
Some say this could be a liability since the president does have low favorability ratings, and Democrats are trying to make the election a referendum on Trump. So why have the president show up every day? Why not perhaps bring more attention to the party itself?
It is probably a gamble, but I think a couple of things are going on here: One is that the president enjoys the spotlight. But I think he’s also keenly aware of how much the pandemic has diminished the kind of televised campaign exposure he enjoyed in 2016. So in the absence of the big campaign rallies this year, Trump may think putting himself in front of the base each night of the convention is one way to make up for that.
REICHARD: Any other particularly notable differences this year?
DEAN: Well, another difference involves the Republican Party’s platform. We touched on this a little bit last week, but the GOP has decided not to adopt a new party platform for 2020.
That’s unusual too.
Typically, each party meets to hash out new priorities and form a fresh platform for the next four years. Republicans have said that because of the complications of the pandemic, they decided not to do that this year.
I’ve noticed some reports saying that Republicans are running without a platform this year. I don’t think that’s accurate. They are running without a new platform, but an RNC spokesperson confirmed to me that in the absence of a new platform, the 2016 platform remains in effect.
A GOP statement about not adopting a new platform did say that Republicans affirm President Trump’s second-term agenda. The president had struggled to articulate a clear agenda in some recent interviews, but his campaign released on Monday what they called “core principles” for his second term goals.
They listed 10 categories that included jobs, fighting COVID-19, healthcare, education, foreign policy, and other areas.
Now, some noted those categories didn’t mention goals related to pro-life concerns or religious liberty. That’s true. The 2016 platform does discuss both of those areas, so Republicans have made statements on these issues, but some voters may want to hear more about any specific plans President Trump has in those categories in the next four years.
REICHARD: As both parties move past the conventions, what do you see as the next big event to watch?
DEAN: We touched on this briefly last week too, but I do think the presidential debates are going to be the next big thing for the candidates. Without traditional campaigning this year, I suspect those debates will draw a large audience interested in seeing both candidates in a more candid setting—and actually interacting with each other.
I’ve noticed an undercurrent of suggestions that say Joe Biden should refuse to debate President Trump. Thomas Friedman of The New York Times said Biden shouldn’t debate Trump unless the president agrees to release his tax returns and to allow a team of real-time fact checkers to report any false statements during the debate. I’m not sure either candidate would agree to those conditions.
The Times ran another op-ed a couple of weeks later entitled “Let’s Scrap the Presidential Debates.” And Joe Lockhart, the former press secretary for Bill Clinton, has argued Biden should refuse to debate Trump because he says the president doesn’t tell the truth.
So far, Biden has not taken that bait. He says he’s eager to debate the president. And I think it would be an enormous gamble for Biden to back down from that engagement. He’s faced some questions about his mental acuity, for example, and refusing to face off with his opponent in person would probably only feed those concerns. It would certainly give Trump substantial ammunition against his opponent in the last few weeks of the election.
So barring an unexpected change-of-heart on either side, I think we look next toward the first presidential debate on September 29th.
REICHARD: You mentioned concerns about mental acuity, and you wrote about that for a recent edition of WORLD Magazine. Can you speak a little to that subject?
DEAN: Sure, some of the jumping off points for that article was a pretty remarkable poll conducted by Monmouth University this summer. The pollsters asked respondents whether they thought the presidential candidates had the mental and physical stamina required to carry out of the job of being president. For Biden, 52 percent said yes. For Trump, 45 percent said yes.
Those seem like low numbers when it comes to confidence in either candidate’s mental and physical fitness. Some of that may be based on political division. Democrats were more likely to say Trump wasn’t fit, and Republicans were more likely to say Biden wasn’t fit.
But a Zogby poll about a month earlier reported that some 55 percent of surveyed voters thought it was more likely than not that Biden was in the early stages of dementia.
Now, only a physician can clinically diagnose a condition like dementia. But these surveys suggest the possibility is on the mind of at least some voters. And some of that concern as it relates to Biden is likely to connected to a series of verbal stumbles he’s made as he campaigned over the last year. There have been moments when he’s appeared confused. Some have noted that he’s struggled with a stuttering problem, and he’s said that’s true. But it’s not clear that all of his stumbles are connected to stuttering.
Trump has picked up on this, and he’s said Biden should undergo a cognitive fitness test and make the results public. Trump said he’s had one himself, and that he did well. Biden recently told an interviewer he had not taken a cognitive test, and he didn’t see a reason to take one.
REICHARD: Do you think this will be an issue going into the fall?
DEAN: It looks like the Trump campaign may continue to bring this up. Over the last few months, the Trump campaign has run some online ads questioning Biden’s mental state. Sadly, some of those ads have treated the issue with levity instead of gravity. In one of them, an image had been edited to look like Biden was being spoon fed in a nursing home.
I think the question of mental acuity is a legitimate question for voters to raise and to examine, especially as it relates to someone running for perhaps the most stressful and demanding job in the world. But I hope that as that happens, we’ll remember to do that with the sense of sobriety that the subject demands.
Whether or not either candidate struggles with mental fitness, I think those of us who have known and loved someone who has struggled in this way can attest to the sadness of those kinds of problems, and the sensitivity that they do call for.
REICHARD: Jamie Dean, WORLD’s national editor and political correspondent. Thank you!
DEAN: You’re welcome.