Self-congratulation and self-indulgence are twin characteristics of the Trump presidency, and both were well received by the partisans who crowded the South Lawn when Trump took the stage Thursday night. Joe Biden is no less a fan of Joe Biden than Donald Trump is of Donald Trump, and he is, if anything, even windier. Yet Biden’s speech accepting his party’s nomination was a third the length of Trump’s speech accepting his. In his nearly empty convention center, with the nearest funny hats and noisemakers attached to his fans in the parking lot outside, Biden looked lonesome and bereft, conditions that moved him to an economy of words he has never before shown. The speech was undistinguished, but it was the most welcome performance of his career.
Not so with Trump. The presence of a worshipful crowd encouraged him often to depart from his well-written text and sow it with his pointless asides and incidental self-commentary. The audience was indiscriminate in its appreciation, as political-convention audiences always are. Trump had only to pause for breath to cue the cheers and applause. The crowd was too small, and the venue (despite the best efforts of the RNC’s gaudy set designers) was too dignified, to rise to the kind of pressurized mania that traditional conventions achieve at their best. Thursday night at the RNC was neither one thing nor the other. The obligatory cheers had the effect of simultaneously lengthening the speech and draining it of whatever rhetorical meaning it might have had. Thanks to the crowd, the climax of the Republican convention was also its low point. The fireworks were pretty terrific, though.