Clarence Fanto | The Bottom Line: Trump's sales pitch was frighteningly effective


LENOX >> "I AM YOUR VOICE!" proclaimed Donald J. Trump, screaming for so long Thursday night that it seemed he might lose his voice. The line was actually in all-caps in the prepared text.

Much of his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention was an "Apocalypse Now" descent into darkness, 76 minutes of playing into the public's deepest fears about terrorism, domestic violence (especially attacks on police) and the perception that the nation and the world are out of control.

It was also a brilliantly crafted sales pitch aimed directly at voters among the estimated 35 million TV viewers seeking balm for our current Age of Anxiety.

The Republican candidate, who has a realistic chance, at least, of moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. next Jan. 20, played the receptive crowd like an expert band leader, contrasting the sour low notes with soaring promises that he'll be the nation's single-handed savior.

He stayed mostly on script during a professionally assembled oration that steered clear, for the most part, of major fact-fudging, although there was plenty of hyperbole during the recitation of statistics purporting to show the crime rate at a fever pitch in our nation's troubled metropolises.

Nixon's playbook

Trump, locked in a statistical dead heat with Hillary Clinton until now, should benefit from a trampoline-sized post-convention polling bounce. That is, if he stays on message and remains reasonably disciplined during the excruciating 14 weeks of bitter, divisive campaigning ahead.

And the message is: "In this race for the White House, I'm your law-and-order candidate." That's right out of the 1968 Richard Nixon playbook at a time when the nation was roiled by domestic upheaval and a foreign war — different circumstances, but a similar vibe.

But Trump cleverly, if briefly, added a kinder, gentler note by declaring: "We will be a country of generosity and warmth. But we will also be a country of law and order."

Trump's speech played off the despair of current and recent news events, a master stroke of timing that should consign the Ted Cruz apostasy, the last gasps of the dwindling band of Never Trumpers and the kerfuffle over Melania Trump's partially purloined speech to asterisks and footnotes.

"Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation," the candidate asserted. "The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country."

Then came the commitment designed to reassure a nervous public: "The crime and violence that afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Safety will be restored."

Certainly a message that resonates not only with his base but with many other voters, including on-the-fence independents, disappointed Sandersians on the left flank of the Democratic party as well as the multitudes of Clinton skeptics.

It was a telling moment when, in response to the convention crowd's persistent chants of "Lock her up!" Trump waved away that absurd notion by suggesting that the better tack was to defeat her in November.

Not that he let her off easy as he vowed, "Here at our convention, there will be no lies." He described her legacy as one of "death, destruction, terrorism and weakness."

Short on inspiration

Political experts stress that the bleak state of the nation depicted by Trump requires a note of optimism and hope for better days ahead.

But uplift was in short supply when he pledged that "Hillary Clinton's legacy does not have to be America's legacy. My message is that things have to change, and they have to change right now. Hillary Clinton is proposing mass amnesty, mass immigration and mass lawlessness."

True to form, he reverted to his typical insular, jingoistic "USA! USA!" mantra when he insisted that "Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo" and that the nation will regain "the respect that we deserve."

In an ironic twist, given his history of exploiting Trump University students as well as subcontractors in his employ on his failed Atlantic City projects, Trump cast himself as the defender of the little guy: "I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people who cannot defend themselves."

And the inevitable narcissism that defines his persona was on full display when he proclaimed that "Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order to this country."

Remarkably, considering the crowd, Trump's nod to "LGBTQ citizens" led to an ovation.

His dystopian vision of dread and doom emerged again when he insisted that "We must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism" and repeated the nonsense that "We are going to build a great border wall."

No Trump speech would be complete without a HUGE helping of boastful, bombastic bravado: "I have made billions of dollars in business-making deals — now I'm going to make our country rich again. I am not going to let companies move to other countries, firing their employees along the way, without consequence. Middle-income Americans and businesses will experience profound relief, and taxes will be greatly simplified for everyone."

And a sliver of the long-awaited, Reaganesque optimism finally surfaced near the end when the very-possible next president reassured the audience that "America is back. Bigger and stronger than ever before. We don't win any more, but we are going to start winning again."

Then came the grand finale, and I'll wager that if he's elected on Nov. 8, these lines, bound to be repeated throughout the fall, will have made the difference:

"To every parent who dreams for their child, and every child who dreams for their future, I say these words to you tonight: I'm with you, I will fight for you, and I will win for you."

For those of us who would prefer root canals to a Trump presidency, it was a tough night, precisely because he was so effective and persuasive against a weakened, compromised opponent.

Now it's up to Hillary Clinton, her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and a strong Democratic supporting cast to turn the tide back in her direction. It will take a Herculean effort to persuade enough voters — since 60 percent of the electorate deems her untrustworthy at best and a devious liar at worst — that she would be an effective president nonetheless.

Actually, come to think of it, it may well take a miracle.

Contact Clarence Fanto at The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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