Through a series of articles we call The State, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy and Political Affairs team is providing analysis related to "the state of" various aspects of the 2020 campaign season, including the race for the White House and key elections around the country.
Randy Dwyer: The GOP convention hit its stride on Tuesday night with two very strong themes. First, America is the “Land of Opportunity” that opens doors for everyone who wants to make their dreams come true. The second was “Promises Made, Promises Kept.”
Both themes are core elements of Trump’s reelection effort. The evening presented viewers with the longstanding GOP belief – shared by Trump – that in America, success is up to the individual. Convention speakers said the American dream is alive but they also warned that it must be defended against the oncoming socialist agenda of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and a radical left.
Testimonials about “Promises Made, Promises Kept” gave insight into Trump the man, as well as Trump the president. He was positively portrayed as a man who keeps his word and as a man of action who cuts through the bureaucratic red tape to ease the burden on fellow Americans. I suspect we’ll be hearing more of these themes not only this week, but during the upcoming presidential debates as Trump tries to draw a stark contrast to the Biden/Harris ticket.
Cody Lyon: Continuing with their norm-breaking campaign, Republicans on the second night of the convention sought to broaden President Trump’s appeal and reach voters outside of his conservative base. The passionate and fiery speeches of day one, designed to energize Trump’s loyal supporters, were replaced with Americans speaking about how the Trump administration’s policies and assistance have helped agriculture, small business and other industries.
At this moment, I believe this race is closer than the polls indicate. Trump is doing better in some swing-state polls than he was at this point in 2016. His base of blue-collar workers, farmers and business owners remains strong. Tonight’s messages and the campaign strategy were focused on broadening this group of working-class voters, especially in rural areas, who did not vote in 2016 but will this time.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found 13% of voters remain "in play," enough to tip the election.
Mike Sistak: On that note, it’s worth looking at convention viewership, which is down for both the Democrats and Republicans. On the first night, there were 17 million people watched the GOP event -- 3 million less than those tuned into the Democrats’ first night. This could signal that opinions about the race are well-formed and the average American doesn’t feel he or she needs to hear anything more to know who is getting their vote. Ratings for the remaining nights could offer more insight.
At the moment, the Republican Convention is playing right into the narrative that this election is a referendum on President Trump. Like his 2016 convention acceptance speech in which he said that he “alone can fix it,” every speaker we’ve heard so far is pushing the message that Donald Trump is the only one who can cure all the country’s ills. But if it is a referendum on Trump, is that the kind of election the president wants?
The bright spot for the Republicans on day two was first lady Melania Trump’s speech. We heard much about Mrs. Trump’s story and the deep empathy she has for those struggling through difficult times. She also discussed initiatives she would pursue if the president is reelected, but it is unlikely voters are going to make their decision based upon those pursuits. If the president wants to reach people on the same empathetic level as the first lady, he might do well to consider taking a page from her or asking her to make campaign trail appearances a more regular occurrence to soften his message to the voters he needs most to hear it.
Cody Lyon: The third and fourth nights of the convention are likely to be overshadowed by Hurricane Laura making landfall along the Louisiana and Texas border and the ongoing violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin. President Trump has an opportunity to show leadership and empathy by leading the government response and changing the tone of the campaign.
Wednesday night’s theme is “America, Land of Heroes,” with speeches from Vice President Mike Pence and others.
Cody Lyon is AFBF’s managing director of advocacy and political affairs.
Randy Dwyer is AFBF’s director of advocacy & grassroots development.
Michael Sistak is AFBF’s director of grassroots program development.