The coronavirus took a back seat to culture wars during the RNC's first night

  • The coronavirus played a minimal role during the first night of the 2020 Republican National Convention, despite the United States continuing to lead the world in confirmed cases and deaths.
  • Instead, much of the night's programming centered around violent crime and cultural issues, such as political correctness and "cancel culture."
  • The few segments mentioning the coronavirus focused on praising President Donald Trump's response, casting him as a decisive leader who "save thousands of lives" early on by banning travel from China — even though it wasn't a complete ban and public health experts have noted the ban did little to mitigate transmission.
  • Trump could not resist bringing up the unproven therapeutics like hydroxychloroquine, and told a recovered patient that her "blood is very valuable."
  • Polling over the past few months has shown stark differences in how seriously Republicans and Democrats take the pandemic, with 76% of Democrats saying the virus is "a very big problem in the country today" compared to just 37% of Republicans, according to Pew Research.
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Despite the ubiquity of the coronavirus in American life in 2020, the pandemic was not a top tier issue during the first night of the Republican National Convention on Monday.

Rather than placing the pandemic as a central theme to kick off the convention — in the way 9/11 did for both parties in 2004 — the leadoff speech Monday night from 26-year-old Charlie Kirk framed Trump as "the bodyguard of western civilization."

Segments on violent crime and cultural issues like "cancel culture" far outweighed anything on the virus.

In one clear COVID-19 focused bit, Trump did a stand around interview with frontline workers.

 

In a mix of asking them how they were doing and soliciting flattery, Trump once again made avoidable missteps that have come to characterize his response to the pandemic.

"Your blood is very valuable, you know that, right?" the president told a COVID-19 survivor.

"OK, and I won't even ask you about the hydroxychloroquine," Trump quipped at another point, referring to the unproven therapeutic normally reserved for malaria treatment. There was also a speech from a West Virginia nurse that praised Trump's pandemic response. 

"As a health care professional, I can tell you without hesitation Donald Trump's quick action and leadership save thousands of lives during COVID-19, and the benefits of that response extend far beyond coronavirus," Amy Ford, a registered nurse from Williamson, W.Va. said. 

The only other focused messaging on the virus came in repeated lines about Trump banning travel from China on Jan. 31, which was part of what Ford was alluding to when she claimed Trump saved "thousands of lives."

Fact checkers have found there is little to back up that claim on the ban — which wasn't a complete ban — and public health experts have noted it did little to mitigate transmission once the virus began coming to the US from Europe.

Subsequent nights of the convention might feature more on the pandemic, but months of communications issues and a consistent reluctance to back a national response instead of delegating it to the states have shown Trump has little appetite to make the virus a major campaign issue.

If the convention is understood more as a get out the vote effort rather than a more traditional persuasion session, keeping the virus as a second tier issue may make more sense.

Pew Research has found sharp differences in how seriously Republicans and Democrats take the virus, with 76% of Democrats saying the virus is "a very big problem in the country today" compared to just 37% of Republicans.

However, through the summer, polling has showed a firm majority of Americans disapprove of Trump's coronavirus response, with 58.4% disapproving of Trump's efforts on the pandemic, according to FiveThirtyEight's polling average.

In that same polling average, 79% of Republicans approve of Trump's coronavirus response.

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