EDITORIAL: Can GOP counter strong Dem case?

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, with Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., raise their arms up as fireworks go off in the background during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del. Looking on are Jill Biden, far left, and Harris' husband Doug Emhoff, far right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The political world had just enough time to catch its breath over the weekend between last week’s Democratic National Convention and the start tonight of its Republican counterpart.

The respite offered an opportunity to assess the argument laid out by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his party while awaiting the case for reelection from incumbent Donald Trump.

Even with Trump’s master media skills at their disposal, the Republican National Committee will have its work cut out for it on a number of fronts as it prepares its four-night extravaganza.

Democrats did a masterful job of turning what should have been a disadvantage (a non-live convention) into a new and exciting format. The travelogue that was the state-by-state nomination, for example — with segments from each state in which presidential delegates were awarded — turned what is normally an arduous, albeit necessary, chore into a veritable national celebration.

Profiles of the candidates — Biden and his newly minted running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California — were masterfully produced, but similar segments, outlining, for instance, the continuing fight for Civil Rights through a biography of the late Rep. John Lewis, or the need for common-sense firearm reforms as argued by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was gravely wounded by a would-be assassin, were equally compelling, and all the more powerful for their unexpectedness.

The convention also did a thorough job of including the voices of common citizens, even incorporating several that Biden has met on the campaign trail, like 31-year-old New York City security guard Jacquelyn Brittany, who formally placed his name into nomination for president, and 13-year-old Brayden Harrington, who, as did Biden when a teenager, battles to overcome a stutter.

Then there was the, for lack of a better term, star power. Former presidents (Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter), former presidential candidates (Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry), former first lady Michelle Obama, House and Senate leaders, well-known governors and former elected officials. Even Republican luminaries like former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell made the case for Biden.

Like the lesser-known faces that filled the screen last week, they represented the type of diversity that simply doesn’t exist in Republican circles.

None of these trappings would have mattered had not the substance of the convention been focused not only on the shortcomings of the incumbent administration but on the vision and agenda of the Biden-Harris ticket: Smarter public-health strategies, fairer fiscal policies, more inclusive immigration practices, an embrace of science and facts, a return to global partnerships, an investment in environmental stewardship, maturity, consistency, leadership. And, of course, a substantive, hands-on response to a pandemic that has claimed more than 175,000 American lives and counting.

Republicans now face the challenge of answering these persuasive and well-crafted arguments and, at least on paper, they appear to be at a disadvantage.

No former presidents or vice presidents are among the convention speakers. In fact, the list is light on any names from the past but includes half a dozen Trump family members, while the president himself plans to speak every night. Delegates’ decision to gather in a bubble in Charlotte, N.C., tonight highlights the party’s arguable reticence to take the pandemic seriously.

But the biggest potential hurdle is that an incumbent normally runs on his record. Can the president credibly ask, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” The federally unanswered pandemic rages on while Trump spends weekends golfing, the economy is staggering with unemployment north of 10 percent. And progress has reversed on issues as varied as immigration, the environment, health care and public safety.

All of which is why Trump is trailing Biden in most national and swing-state polls (including Pennsylvania).

In short, Trump and his team are going to have to make a heckuva case to close the deal this time around. They’ve got America’s attention this week. It’s time to see what they do with it.