If Donald Trump’s allies begged him not to mention being “reinstated” during his speech Saturday night to the party faithful in North Carolina, it worked.
Trump resisted the urge to riff about the notion (probably inspired by the MyPillow guy)—or about the recent buzz about him wanting to become Speaker of the House in 2023. If not vamping about such controversial craziness constitutes a “win,” the presidential loser was a winner Saturday by that standard. But that’s an awfully low bar. Trump still railed about the “2020 election hoax,” and otherwise turned in a less than inspiring performance.
If this was his midterm coming out party, he should probably go back in for a while.
It’s usually a bad omen when they play the theme song to Titanic before you come on stage, but that’s what happened in North Carolina on Saturday night. Then again, they had a lot of time to fill. Trump’s speech was originally slated to begin at 5:3o pm, according to the North Carolina Republican Party’s website. That seemed like a timeslot that was destined to move. It was then advertised by Trump’s team to begin at 7. Trump didn’t begin speaking until 8:05. Call it rude, but this is Trump’s M.O., and likely an intentional strategy to work his audience into a frenzy. Even after he was introduced, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” came on and Trump didn’t begin speaking until the full 3-plus minute song had ended.
If the goal was to increase the tension in the audience, Trump promptly wasted it. After throwing out some perfunctory red meat, (“Our country is being destroyed before our very eyes” by “The most radical left-wing” administration in history”), he then spent the next ten minutes recognizing elected officials and dignitaries in the crowd. Next, he brought up his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, who is from North Carolina. Regarding talk about her ambitions to run for the U.S. Senate, she said “no for now, not no forever.” Trump then introduced Rep. Ted Budd, whom he endorsed for the seat (remember, this is a speech at a Republican convention, not a rally, and so Trump was playing favorites and meddling).
Once Trump finally began in earnest at about 8:25, things were pretty boring and recycled, including complaints about the Keystone XL pipeline, “catch and release” policing and “critical race theory”—you know, examples of how Biden is putting “America last.”
But Biden is hard to villainize, so Trump directed most of his rhetorical fire toward China. He revised his old routine by adding a nod to the “lab leak” theory, and—this is probably the “news” he broke—by saying the time had come to “demand reparations and accountability,” as “China must pay.” And he challenged the audience’s cognitive dissonance, by taking credit for vaccines. “This would be an empty room right now,” Trump, whose campaign rallies in 2020 served as mass spreader events, if he had not pushed for the vaccines to be developed and the FDA to approve them.
There were some flashes of the old Trump, but the speech at the Greenville convention center lacked the excitement of some of his campaign rallies. In a mostly perfunctory performance, he ran through the usual litany of his term’s “accomplishments” (including “ending the forever wars”) and took the opportunity to air his grievances, ranging from broad (“the 2020 election hoax”) to narrow (Trump once again litigating how the media made a big deal out of his slow walk down a ramp at West Point, but not Biden stumbling down the stairs of Air Force One). It was mostly yawn-worthy. Has his schtick just become stale, or is he just rusty? This was, after all, a sort of post-presidency comeback (Trump also spoke at CPAC, back in February).
History is riddled with comebacks gone wrong—of once-great pugilists who should have hung up the gloves but came back for one more payday and more punishment. But getting back on the rubber chicken circuit is a little different than climbing in the ring. In this regard, public speaking is more akin to stand-up comedy, where getting on stage as often as possible is key for working out the kinks in a routine, and staying sharp.
This was the first of many speeches that will proceed the next time voters have a chance to cast their ballots. On January 5, Trump’s rally in Georgia had the effect of helping elect two Democrats and giving their party control of the U.S. Senate.
Just imagine what he can do in 2022 with this kind of head start.