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The RNC Foreshadowed A Battle For The Soul Of MAGA

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Pedro Gonzalez Contributor
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On the first night of the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump Jr. declared: “If Democrats really wanted to help minorities and underserved communities . . . They’d limit immigration to protect American workers.” The next day, President Donald Trump announced he would nominate acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf to permanently assume the same role. Wolf was a paid immigration lobbyist before joining the administration, who worked hard up to and during the pandemic’s early days to increase immigration levels.

This thread of apparent incoherence ran through all four days of the convention.

Republicans wanted to distinguish themselves from Democrats who have more or less embraced lawlessness but could never entirely avoid kowtowing to the basic premises of Black Lives Matter and the “systemic racism” canard. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at once denounced the outrage mob, then defended her decision to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds. Haley previously defended the flag, until the mob demanded it come down. Texas Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw performed a similar rhetorical maneuver. (RELATED: ‘I’m Ready To Put These Police In The F**king Grave’: DC Protester Calls For More Violence)

“Heroism is renewing faith in the symbols that unite us, not tearing them down,” he said in his speech. But Crenshaw is certainly fine with tearing down some things: he was one of 72 Republicans that sided with every Democrat in the House of Representatives in approving a measure to remove statues of Confederates in the U.S. Capitol to appease the outrage mob.

The convention’s mixed messaging was apparent chiefly in the talk of law and order, always joined to the rhetorical hip of prison and police reform. Much of the convention seemed preoccupied with defending and building on the First Step Act, created by senior adviser Jared Kushner, Domestic Policy Council chief Brooke Rollins, and senior staffer Ja’Ron Smith. The prison reform bill released thousands of criminals in for crimes ranging from homicide to sex offenses—though that was swept under the rug all four nights.

Republican Sen. Tim Scott praised the administration’s embrace of criminal justice reform while expressing his “frustration” at a recent officer-involved shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Police were called to the scene after 29-year-old Jacob Blake’s girlfriend “reported that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.” He had an active warrant for trespassing, domestic abuse, and third-degree sexual assault at the time. Officers tried to subdue him with a Taser before shooting him following a scuffle in which he appeared to reach for a weapon. Scott denounced the incident as an example of racism in policing with “no justification whatsoever” in an interview after his speech. He said he is “working with Karen Bass” on police reform—a hard-left ideologue who wants to defund the police. (RELATED: ‘I Will See You On Tuesday’: Trump Says He Will Go To Kenosha Despite Wisconsin Governor’s Objection)

The second day of the convention opened with a prayer for Blake.

Virtually all Trump family members signaled support for prison or police reform, except for Eric Trump. “If you believe in criminal justice reform, there is only one president that passed the FIRST STEP Act,” said Tiffany Trump. Don Jr. echoed Black Lives Matter calling for an “end to racism” in policing but did not clarify what that means, or how it differs from the goals from the people protesting the convention from outside its gates. The president himself hailed the passing of “historic criminal justice reform, prison reform” in his speech, which was illustrative of a problem not only with the convention but at the heart of the America First movement.

The first half of President Trump’s speech was more or less boilerplate GOP offerings, a stark departure from the culture warrior who rallied the peasants with their pitchforks and stormed the White House in 2016. But the second half was vintage Trump. “We are a nation of pilgrims, pioneers, adventurers, explorers and trailblazers who refused to be tied down, held back, or reined in,” Trump crooned to a mesmerized audience. “Americans have steel in their spines, grit in their souls, and fire in their hearts. There is no one like us on earth.”

We saw at the RNC that there are now two “America First” movements: an establishment disguised in MAGA regalia, and real Middle American radicals, the populist base that formed the social force that carried Trump to the White House. The contrast was stark and clear.

Compare old-wine-in-new-skin “rising star” Republicans like Crenshaw and Haley, against the owner of a central Wisconsin manufacturing business and a dairy farmer. Compare, also, captains of capitulation Crenshaw and Haley to young Nick Sandmann of the Covington Catholic incident and the gun-toting McCloskeys, who stood their ground against the mob in St. Louis. Look at Michael McHale, president of the National Association of Police Organizations, versus police and prison reform zealots Ja’Ron Smith and Angela Stanton-King. Compare Smith, who urged Trump to sit on his hands during the George Floyd riots so as to avoid appearing racist, and the widow of David Dorn, a retired police captain murdered by rioters in St. Louis. (RELATED: Mitch McConnell’s Reelection Campaign Hires Former Covington Catholic Student Nick Sandmann)

If Trump wins reelection, the popping of champagne on the Right will likely give way to ideological shots fired between these camps, even as the Left continues its march for power and control over our lives. But the in-fighting will be cathartic rather than counterproductive, considering that one side is consistently inclined to choose compromise over conflict with the people pulling down statues across the country. The important question facing the Right, regardless of the November outcome, is: “Which way, MAGA man?”

Pedro L. Gonzalez is assistant editor of American Greatness and a contributor at Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

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