WASHINGTON – If speaking time at the Republican convention is a measure of President Donald Trump’s favor, his family wins by a mile. They're followed by a slate of Cabinet members and aides who serve at Trump's pleasure. “Everyday Americans" who support the president come next.
But the story of presidential campaigns is often illuminated by who is absent. Not placing at all: luminaries of the Republican establishment, including former President George W. Bush, either because they weren't invited or wanted no part of it.
That seems to be just as well for all involved, given the president's insistence on loyalty, the GOP elders' refusal to give it and the fact that in 2020, the party adopted no policy platform beyond Trump's “America first” worldview.
“Land of Greatness” was the closing theme of the convention, the message the candidate wants voters to remember. The slate of speakers, the campaign says, "will honor America’s long history of greatness, how President Trump restored that greatness, and how he will keep it going.”
It's all pretty vague for those in the GOP's old guard, many of whom are staying silent if they're not endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. On Thursday, hundreds more did just that. A few hours before Trump's acceptance speech, alumni of the Bush administration, Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign announced their support for the former vice president.
Trump's feeling toward establishment Republicans is mutual. He'll never forgive Romney, for example, for voting to convict him on one charge of impeachment earlier this year. McCain's famous thumbs-down that sank Trump's effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act irked Trump long after the Arizona senator died of brain cancer in 2018. And there are no warm feelings for Republican Colin Powell, the retired four-star general who was Bush's secretary of state and has endorsed Biden.
Trump has long fumed that his administration had never drawn high-wattage celebrities like his predecessor, President Barack Obama, did. But going into this convention, the president reasoned to confidants that he was the biggest star, anyway, and would outshine any other boldfaced names, according to a Republican close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.
Instead, the 2020 Republican convention is an exhibit of a party Trump has remade as a largely family-led enterprise.
Over four nights, the Trumps were set to speak — or in Trump's case, appear as a “surprise” — for nearly 150 minutes, enough for a full night of programming.
Among the family, the hierarchy generally is suggested by the amount of speaking time granted. First lady Melania Trump spoke for 16 minutes. The president's elder daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, spent about 18 minutes on remarks introducing her father for his acceptance speech.
“Now more than ever, America needs four more years of a warrior in the White House,” she said.
Other family members who spoke included the president's sons Donald Jr. (five minutes) and Eric (eight minutes) and daughter Tiffany (six minutes). Trump's daughter-in-law, Lara, spoke for six minutes, the same amount of time given to Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior adviser and Donald Jr.'s girlfriend.
One anomaly is the absence from the speaking podium of Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner, who is ubiquitous in the administration on everything from the coronavirus pandemic to Mideast affairs.
Time slots were doled out, as well, to people who work for Trump: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Housing Secretary Ben Carson, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and departing senior counselor Kellyanne Conway each spoke for about four minutes, give or take.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and onetime Trump attorney, spoke for about six minutes.
And Vice President Mike Pence put to rest relentless rumors that Trump might dump him with a 24-minute address at stately Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Wednesday night. The speech solidified his standing as the leading Republican presidential hopeful in 2024.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.
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