No platform but reverence for Trump: 4 key takeaways from RNC 2020, Night 1

No policy document. A focus on the Supreme Court. Dystopian predictions if Democrats rule. And 2024 trial balloons.
/ Source: NBC News
By Sahil Kapur

The Republican Party announced it wouldn't adopt a platform, but it pledged its unwavering support to President Donald Trump as the four-day gathering kicked off Monday.

While the Democratic convention focused on persuasion and de-emphasized base mobilization, the Republican convention so far is focusing on base mobilization and de-emphasizing persuasion.

The president and his allies said the nation is spiraling into chaos and violence, promising that he will work to address it. The convention painted a dark and dystopian vision of the country if he were to lose to the Democratic ticket of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who were portrayed throughout as beholden to "radicals."

The effectiveness of the approach remains to be seen, but the mood on opening day was far from the "very optimistic and upbeat convention this week" that Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller previewed on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Here are four key takeaways:

1. No policy platform

The Republican National Committee adopted a resolution on Monday declaring they will not adopt a policy platform for the 2020 election but stated the party's "strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration" and its opposition to "policy positions of the Obama-Biden Administration."

The document declared that "the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda" — without saying what it is.

The convention was heavy on adulation for a president whose devoted following has trumped issues that the party has previously emphasized, such as free trade and limits on federal authority. He was painted as a benevolent billionaire who put aside a life of luxury to help the country.

An evening speaker depicted Trump as "the bodyguard of Western civilization" against forces that seek to dismantle it. During the ceremonial roll call, when states touted their proudest achievements before casting their votes, Alabama's delegate boasted that it was home to Trump's highest approval rating of any state in the nation.

Sprinkled throughout the evening were video montages of ordinary people lavishing praise on the president.

2. Hyping the Supreme Court

Unlike the Democratic convention, the RNC placed an emphasis on the federal courts. Numerous speakers touted the importance of the election to the Supreme Court. Trump noted that the winner could pick up to several justices to lifetime-appointed jobs.

Trump said earlier Monday that if Biden were to win, "the radical left will demand that he appoints super radical left, wild, crazy justices going into the Supreme Court — your American dream will be dead if that happens.

"It’ll be dead," he said. "This is so important."

He wasn't alone. In the morning, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel praised Trump's record of having "appointed constitutional conservatives to the federal bench — over 200 of them, including Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh." In the evening, a video tribute touted Trump's nomination of the two conservative justices.

3. Dystopian warnings, and falsehoods

The day featured an array of dramatized claims about what would happen if Biden and Harris were to win, some bearing no resemblance to their platform.

"They'll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door. And the police aren't coming when you call," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.

Biden has said he opposes defunding the police. Other speakers suggested he would seek to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a left-wing slogan that the Democratic nominee has also rejected.

Added Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio: "Democrats refuse to denounce the mob." But Biden and other Democrats have condemned violence and looting in cities amid the George Floyd protests this summer.

Trump, speaking earlier in the day, made a variety of false claims about pre-existing conditions (he said he's protecting them even though he has pushed various initiatives to weaken the guarantees) and mail-in voting (drawing a link to fraud that is inconsistent with evidence and expert opinion).

4. 2024 trial balloons

The convention lineup includes a number of Republicans who have been touted as potential presidential contenders. Several of them spoke Monday, most notably Donald Trump Jr., the president's oldest son, and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations.

Those two speeches represented two potential arcs of the post-Trump Republican Party — one in which culture wars intensify, and another in which they are de-emphasized.

The younger Trump represents the first path. He painted Democrats as "radicals who want to drag us into the dark" and must be crushed, claiming they want to "cancel" the Founding Fathers and that Biden's Democrats are "coming for our freedom of speech and want to bully us into submission."

Haley, meanwhile, focused on themes common in a pre-Trump GOP — such as tax cuts, deregulation, battling extremists around the world and ensuring America doesn't "apologize" for its values.

"America is not a racist country," she said. "This is personal for me. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. They came to America and settled in a small Southern town. My father wore a turban. My mother wore a sari. I was a brown girl in a black and white world."

Both strongly endorsed Trump, who has the support of some 90 percent of Republicans in polls.