Many of the Republican strategists I spoke with this week flatly acknowledged that their party was presenting a version of recent events that veered toward fan fiction. But given the bitter mood of the country and the dire state of the race, they said, the campaign’s desperation was understandable.
“In some ways, the speeches are reminiscent of the speeches one hears at a memorial service, where … everyone stretches the truth to say nice things,” A. J. Delgado, who worked for Trump’s 2016 campaign, told me. “And we’re all in the audience muttering, ‘Well, that’s not true, but I get it—what else can you say?’”
The rat-a-tat of distortions and conspiracy theories began with Trump’s address to delegates on Monday, when he accused Democrats of trying to rig the election with universal mail-in voting, which he called “the greatest scam in the history of politics.” (It is not.) Later, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana claimed that Joe Biden had “embraced the insane mission to defund” the police. (He has not.) Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida warned that Democrats would “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door.” (They will not.) And Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said Democrats wanted to “keep you locked in your house until you become dependent on the government for everything.” (They do not.)
When the coronavirus—which has so far killed more than 180,000 Americans—came up during the convention, it was in service of Trumpian revisionism. “From the very beginning, Democrats, the media, and the World Health Organization got the coronavirus wrong,” the narrator said in a video that aired Monday night. But “one leader took decisive action to save lives: President Donald Trump.”
Read: Remember the pandemic?
That this narrative was untethered from reality—Trump’s early refusal to take the virus seriously is well documented—didn’t stop his lib-owning fans from exchanging high fives on social media. “That video is going to make all the right heads explode,” tweeted the conservative talk-radio host Erick Erickson.
The myth that Trump has already beaten the virus pervaded the convention. As my colleague Russell Berman has noted, the pandemic was repeatedly referred to in the past tense. “It was awful,” Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in his speech on Tuesday.
Bryan Lanza, a former Trump adviser, defended this warped account as simply a “glass-half-full” version of the president’s record. When I challenged him on that, he countered, “What do you view as defeating the coronavirus? Because I know this administration is measuring by the death count.”
I pointed out that more than 1,000 Americans are dying every day from the virus.
“Every death is a tragedy,” Lanza replied. “But remember where we were in March, when people were estimating 3–5 million deaths? Three hundred thousand is a fraction of that.”