#RNCinCLE finale: A tale of two speeches

If the first three days of the Republican convention turned into a messy reality-TV show as I argued earlier, the final night seemed more, well … conventional in contrast. Only two speeches really mattered to most of those in attendance in Cleveland — and they were both given by people named Trump. Ivanka Trump, the oldest daughter of Republican nominee Donald Trump, has developed a reputation as the Trump family’s best surrogate for her father. To no one’s surprise, Ivanka did a masterful job of humanizing her father in her introduction to his speech, but when she took on political topics, she raised more than a few eyebrows in the arena:

It was her embrace of an issue pushed by Democrats — the so-called “wage gap” for women — that surprised many:

When Donald Trump is in charge, all that counts is ability, effort and excellence. This has long been the philosophy at the Trump Organization. At my family’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do, and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out. Women represent 46 percent of the total U.S. labor force, and 40 percent of American households have female primary breadwinners.

In 2014, women made 83 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Single women without children earned 94 cents for each dollar earned by a man, whereas married mothers made only 77 cents. As researchers have noted, gender is no longer the factor creating the greatest wage discrepancy — motherhood is. As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put in place at a time in which women were not a significant part of the workforce, and he will focus on making quality childcare affordable and accessible for all.

As the mother of three young children, I know how hard it is to work while raising a family, and I also know that I am more fortunate than most. American families need relief. Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career. He will fight for equal pay for equal work, and I will fight for this too, right alongside of him.

What made this stand out even more was that it was the only issue in which Ivanka went into detail. The other political points raised in her introduction were at the level of my father will fight for you on this. Ivanka spent three of the 22 paragraphs of her speech on this point alone. Clearly, Team Trump understands that they have a steep gender gap to bridge in the general election, and they may have wanted to pre-empt (or “triangulate”) the issue ahead of next week’s Democratic convention, when Hillary Clinton will ride it hard. To conservatives who already worry about Trump’s propensity toward top-down governance, it sounded like a signal for the kind of government intervention in marketplace decisions that they usually fight Democrats to stop rather than Republicans.

Of Trump’s children, the most effective surrogate this week was Donald Jr. His speech Tuesday night was definitely more political, but it also was more red-meat conservative than Ivanka’s or even his father’s speeches on the campaign trail. Trump fils took on government regulation,  He might not help bridge the gender gap, but he could do a great deal to bridge the intraparty gap between the populists and the conservatives. Even a staunch Trump critic like John Podhoretz was impressed:

“The other party also tells us they believe in the American Dream. They say we should worry about economic inequality and immobility. You know what? They’re right. But they don’t tell you that it was their policies that caused the problem, and that their policies have no accountability.”

He then linked this weakness to the failures of our public schools and overregulation of the economy, and offered a pathway to change. “We will not accept the current state of our country because it’s too hard to change. That’s not the America I know.

“We’re going to unleash the creative spirit and energy of all Americans. . . . We’re going to put Americans first. All Americans. Not a special class of crony elites at the top of the heap.”

It was, in almost every respect, a speech Donald Trump Sr. could not give — and one that Marco Rubio could have.

Donald Jr needs to get a lot more time on the campaign trail, especially among conservatives.

The main event, though, was Donald Trump, and he made the most of it … almost literally. His acceptance speech ran 76 minutes, the longest major-party acceptance speech in 44 years. By the time it ended, Trump had talked himself out of prime time in two different time zones. As one delegate later told me, “I was ready to fall asleep before it ended.” However, Trump had the room spellbound for almost its entirety, even though he made one significant change to his approach:

The change? Trump refrained almost entirely from ad-libbing. Besides a few “believe me” interjections and a response to a heckler in the audience, Trump stayed on script. Despite the concerns of his supporters, that rhetorical discipline — the lack of which has caused headaches for the campaign in the past — didn’t appear to hamper Trump’s energy, delivery, or audience engagement. Trump retained his authentic voice, a lesson that the campaign and the candidate should note well for the general election. Discipline can sharpen the message, not neuter it.

However, the speech suffered from an almost unending march of woes, with little hope offered except in the form of the candidate himself. In some ways, it’s an analog for Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” message of 2008, in which the candidate cast himself as the only savior against a world of rising sea levels and a loss of American prestige. Trump offered much the same, only with a different litany of woes, and almost no suggestion of any reason for optimism at all except for the rise of Trump.

That contrasts sharply from Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” approach, in which he noted the very real malaise of that time but contrasted it with the essential goodness and dynamism of ordinary Americans — not just himself. Reagan had a message of hope that focused on making each voter feel like an agent of change within themselves; at times, Trump made Americans sound as though they couldn’t do anything for themselves. It was bleak — but it’s what got him to that position in the first place. And at the end of a convention, at least, you don’t want to tinker too much with the formula that put you last on the speaking agenda.