• Mon. Nov 30th, 2020

The Harsh Reality Behind Trump’s Reality Show

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Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

At the Democratic National Convention last week, former President Barack Obama accused his predecessor of treating his presidency like “one more reality show.”

Maybe President Trump wasn’t listening. Or maybe he was taking inspiration.

On both nights of the Republican convention so far, he has had warm, symbolic meetings with everyday Americans in taped segments from the White House. As our TV critic, James Poniewozik, points out, they’ve all mirrored a key component of Mr. Trump’s former reality show, “The Apprentice”: the prize-giveaway scene.

On Monday, the president had a get-to-know-you session with a group of coronavirus survivors, each of them giving brief testimonials and seemingly star-struck in his presence. Last night, he performed some official business with a humanitarian lilt: Mr. Trump pardoned Jon Ponder, an ex-convict who started a nonprofit organization after getting out of prison, and then the president conducted a naturalization ceremony for five immigrants.

But as with so much TV, what came through onscreen didn’t reflect reality.

Mr. Trump is on track to have cut legal immigration by almost 50 percent by the end of this year, according to a National Foundation for American Policy analysis. The cutback on naturalizations heavily affects refugees. And, of course, Mr. Trump continues to detain huge numbers of people at the southwestern border, turning away asylum seekers by the tens of thousands.

On criminal justice reform, Mr. Trump can rightfully brag about the modest bill he signed last year, but he and Republicans in the Senate have resisted calls to continue debate over police-reform legislation proposed after George Floyd’s killing.

With his softened tone, Mr. Trump is clearly aiming to win over voters at the center, leaning away from his red-blooded conservative instinct and striking a conciliatory tone that is in many ways directly contradictory to his policies.

There’s reason for him to be concerned about moderates in the suburbs: He won suburban voters by four points in 2016, according to exit polls, and he’ll need help from this group — which accounts for about half of all the country’s voters — in November if he wants to counteract Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s strength in the cities.

But Mr. Trump’s disapproval ratings are even higher in the suburbs than they are in cities. A Fox News poll this month found him trailing Mr. Biden 54 percent to 38 percent in the suburbs.

The reality-TV segments and other portions of the convention filmed on the White House grounds have raised ethics concerns: The Hatch Act is widely thought to prohibit presidents from using the trappings of their office in their re-election bids. But the Office of Special Counsel, an independent government office that has authority to enforce the Hatch Act, released a statement today saying that it considered parts of the White House, such as the Rose Garden and South Lawn, viable for political acts, and wouldn’t be “grandstanding” about “potential violations that may or may not occur.”

Tonight, Vice President Mike Pence will address the convention. He, too, is more unpopular in the suburbs than anywhere else, according to the Fox News poll, with 58 percent of suburban voters expressing a negative view of him.

Mr. Pence’s wife, Karen, will also give a speech, as will Lara Trump, an adviser to the president’s campaign and the wife of his son Eric Trump.

Madison Cawthorn, 25, the Republican nominee for the North Carolina congressional seat vacated by Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, will also address the convention in his first appearance under national lights. In June, the young nominee, who had turned to politics after surviving a near-fatal car crash that left him partly paralyzed, won the Republican primary by besting a Trump-endorsed foe. But in the months since, he’s been accused of aggressive sexual behavior and was found to have used an acronym associated with white supremacist groups in the name of his real-estate company. The president has praised Mr. Cawthorn saying, “You’re going to be a star of the party.”

As usual, you can watch the full two-hour broadcast beginning at 9 p.m., at nytimes.com. Our reporters will be online dishing out their analysis — and fact checks — in real time. CNN, MSNBC and PBS will show the full two-hour event, but Fox News and the major broadcast TV networks will air only the second half.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was not acting independently when it changed its coronavirus guidelines earlier this week to cut down on the number of people required to be tested.

  • The new guidelines, which state that asymptomatic people do not need tests even if they’ve been exposed to the virus, were instituted on the instructions of higher-ups from within the Trump administration, officials told The Times.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, was not at the meeting where the new guidelines were approved, according to a source.

  • Mr. Trump announced today that he would send in the National Guard and other federal law enforcement to quell the unrest in Kenosha, Wis., as protests there entered their third night.

  • Protests have raged there since Sunday, when Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back by police officers while unarmed. Some demonstrators have looted and set fires.

  • On Tuesday night, a confrontation between protesters and armed men who had vowed to protect a gas station turned deadly and at least two people were shot.

  • The White House has added 24 Chinese companies to a do-not-trade list in retaliation for their role in helping the Chinese military build artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea. It is the first time the United States has used the so-called entity list with regard to actions in the South China Sea.

  • The administration is keeping up a drumbeat of anti-China maneuvering in the lead-up to the November election. Negative opinions of China have skyrocketed among Americans in recent years, and both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden have sought to use this to their advantage.


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This Friday, politics reporters from The Times will take a look back at this week’s Republican convention, breaking down all the key moments and unexpected developments of the event.

Join us in a 30-minute round-table discussion on Aug. 28 at 11 a.m., hosted by The Times’s deputy politics editor, Rachel Dry, and featuring Annie Karni, a White House correspondent; Jonathan Martin, a national political correspondent; and John Eligon, a national correspondent covering race. R.S.V.P. here.

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