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Democratic Strategist Paul Begala's View Of The GOP Convention


Let's hear how the Republican convention looks to a Democrat who's been watching, a pro. This is the reverse of what we did last week with the Democratic convention. Paul Begala is a longtime Democratic strategist, and he's on Skype. Welcome back to the program.

PAUL BEGALA: Thanks, Steve. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Let's listen to just a bit of last night for those who may have missed it. First lady Melania Trump stepped out into the Rose Garden behind the White House and acknowledged suffering from the pandemic.


MELANIA TRUMP: My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one, and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone.

INSKEEP: And we should note, this adds a message for the Republicans. Other convention speakers who've mentioned the pandemic have generally praised the president for successfully fighting it, in their view. How did Melania do?

BEGALA: I thought she did very well. I thought she was the best speaker last night. Unfair to compare her to Michelle Obama or Jill Biden at the Democratic convention, but it is interesting - Dr. Biden used her time to humanize her husband, to tell the story of how their family had been shattered by tragedy and how they knitted it back together, using that as a metaphor for then what she hopes her husband can do for the country. Mrs. Trump didn't go that route. She at least was the only person who spoke from the reality-based world, though. We're in the middle of a pandemic, and you would have never known it from the other speakers. So I'm glad she did that.

And it was noteworthy that she was - to me, as somebody who used to work in that White House - speaking from the parking lot formerly known as the Rose Garden. I'm not very happy with her aesthetic, but I did like her speech.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the location because that was one of several questions about this. We have Melania from the - Melania Trump from the Rose Garden. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke from Jerusalem while on an official trip. Now, he said he did it on his own time. Our correspondent Mara Liasson has noted that the laws on this are weak. It's hard to say, you know, these people should go to jail or something, but there are laws and prohibitions against using federal property for personal political purposes. My question to you, as a political pro, is do you think voters care about that?

BEGALA: Not many, no. I do because I'm a nerd. But I think it would be unwise for the Democrats to fixate on that too much because we're in a pandemic. I think the Democrats ought to say, look - the president should speak from a COVID ward. He should speak from an ICU unit. He should speak from a morgue. A hundred-and-forty-four people died yesterday during the Republican broadcast. There's a crisis. So I think Democrats should say, the president can speak from the top of the Washington Monument if he could get his arms around this COVID crisis.

But except for the first lady, everybody else seemed to be in denial. I thought it was noteworthy that one of his top aides, Larry Kudlow, spoke about this pandemic in the past tense. When 1,200 people were dying yesterday, he said it was awful; hardship and heartbreak were everywhere. No, sir - they are everywhere, and you're in charge.

INSKEEP: When Republicans have talked about the pandemic, they've more often this week done it in a different way, which we're going to hear from Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, who complained about restrictions. Let's listen.


JIM JORDAN: Democrats won't let you go to church, but they'll let you protest. Democrats won't let you go to work, but they'll let you riot. Democrats won't let you go to school, but they'll let you go loot.

INSKEEP: What do you make of that, Paul Begala?

BEGALA: Yeah, he's appealing to the sort of grievance-based wing of his party, which I have to say, I think he's already got. It seems to me the Republicans still haven't decided that they want to broaden their appeal. I thought the first lady was an attempt at that. But otherwise, they seem to want to deepen the support that they already have, which is - it is job one of a campaign, is to solidify your base. But at some point - and this is the point - they need to broaden. They need to reach out. And telling people that you're angry because somehow the Democrats locked up churches because of the coronavirus is, I think, unlikely to appeal to the swing voters they need.

INSKEEP: Although this is what we read in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere about how the Republicans think they want to broaden - not by getting people of color, for example, but because they think there are even more white working-class voters they can register and get to the polls this fall. Is that something they could realistically do?

BEGALA: They might. They might. I have a buddy of mine - a hunting buddy, actually - who calls it the empty-the-deer-stands strategy. I kind of think they emptied them the last time. But it seems to me where they're hemorrhaging is college-educated white people in the suburbs. There might even be a few of them listening to this broadcast. And I think the appeal from Congressman Jordan or the bombast from Mr. Trump is just not what they want to hear in the middle of a pandemic.

INSKEEP: Paul Begala is a CNN contributor and author of the new book "You're Fired: The Perfect Guide To Beating Donald Trump."

Thanks so much.

BEGALA: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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