For the second straight night, the most important Republican National Convention news revolved around those that didn’t speak rather than those who did. This time, it was so-called “Angel Mom” Mary Ann Mendoza, whose dubious fame arises from her son’s tragic death in an automobile accident. Mendoza’s story came to Donald Trump’s attention not because he cares about her grief, but because the driver of the other vehicle was in the country illegally when it happened. This is often how it begins. Trump exploits a private trauma, and his victim obtains the uncritical favors and attentions of Trump’s death cult.
The power that comes with such a sympathetic story is immense, and the corresponding responsibility to use it wisely should be proportionate. Instead, Mendoza uses Trump’s platform to spread racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. This makes her membership on the board of We Build The Wall, the organization responsible for Steve Bannon’s indictment, seem normal by comparison.
The RNC was forced to remove Mendoza from the program, after which she issued a hollow apology claiming she wasn’t really a racist, anti-Semitic lunatic, she just didn’t read the whole opinion. Of course, it didn’t take minutes to find other similar examples of hateful delusion. If cancel culture doesn’t exist it would have to be invented just for this case. In real life, just as in every other case, she will be a Fox News martyr within the week.
The Trump campaign knew what Mendoza was about. She makes no attempt to hide it. The anti-Semitism and QAnon conspiracy mongering is why she was invited. Her dead son makes a useful cover story, and Republican normalization of racism has made the “wall” a critical enough dog whistle that it can’t be avoided. But her words are irrelevant. Her presence was important, because it was the signal to the racists, supremacists, QAnon, and conspiracy kooks that the Republican Party is their home.1As I write this, the Manson girls are on television singing Charlie Manson’s “I’ll Never Say Never to Always,” courtesy of Quentin Tarantino. Its first two lines are “Always is always forever As long as one is one.” Can’t be a coincidence.
In short, willing pawns like Mendoza protect the Republican Party’s plausible deniability. But they have to stick to the script. Whoever was assigned to babysit her today is most certainly fired, as that person allowed Mendoza to do the one thing a Republican must never do: Tell the world what she really thinks.
In a normal political era, the news that one of the two major political parties had invited an anti-Semitic conspiracy nut to give a primetime speech at its convention would have been a disqualifying scandal. Of course, in 2020, it’s just Day 2, and perhaps Republicans staged the whole thing simply to render the rest of the night anodyne by comparison.
A 2×4 purporting to be Mike Pompeo recorded a short hostage video from an unknown location in the Middle East. The question wasn’t quite so much Pompeo discarding decades of diplomatic tradition to give the speech—why stop now?—as why he bothered to do it to give that speech. This must be the real reason Merkel doesn’t want to have a G-7.
A half-dozen Trump family members and stooges assaulted the stage to claim that the Bidens are nepotists. Nobody noted the irony of a party that calls itself “Republican” embracing dynastic monarchism, but in fairness, nobody at the convention knows what that term means.2Particularly if Eric Trump’s Wonderlic-challenged speech is any indication. There was even less discussion of policy than normal, testing the premise that asymptotic curves can (and will) approach, but never reach, zero.3Incidentally, Larry Kudlow’s unsupported assertion that the economy is in a V-shaped recovery not only brings Republicans’ grasp on geometry into question, one is forced to wonder if Kudlow has been relapsing on whatever Don Jr. and Kim were (allegedly) smoking yesterday.
In the night’s biggest surprise, Melania wore something straight out of the Fidel Castro designer line. Talk about counter-programming. Between that and admitting the pandemic’s existence, it’s hard to know whether Melania is victim, hostage, or willing participant.
That said, her speech was decent, at least by the lower-than-the-Caddyshack-gopher standards of 2020 Republican politics. Like Tim Scott’s closing Day 1 speech, it benefitted from making little mention of Donald. Indeed, for the first two days the Republican strategy appears to have been two hours of Dear Leader theatrics followed by ten minutes of non-Donald messaging from the night’s most palatable speaker. Fair enough, but given that tomorrow’s closing speaker is Mike Pence’s Adoring Gaze(TM), Day 3 is unlikely to offer the same respite.