The Key Moment from Night One of the Republican Convention

I expected two things as I followed the first night of the Republican national convention last night: I would not be happy with the paeans to Donald Trump, and most readers of this post would be more sanguine about said paeans than I would be. My first expectation was met; I’m sadly sure the second will be, too.

However, there was a moment where the convention – and even the party that spawned it – was prepared to move beyond the slavish praise of Trump and rampant fear-mongering that has coursed through the 2020 Republican campaign. It was the highlight of Trump’s efforts to free hostages taken by various tyrants around the world.

For a president who has a history of doing those very tyrants’ bidding, this was a clever move against type – and a chance to rebuild, if only symbolically, a bridge between the current GOP and the wide swath of ex-Republicans for whom defending and advancing the cause of democracy means something.

Then, as is usual when good plans involving Donald Trump go awry, he opened his mouth.

Tim Alberta has the blow-by-blow:

During a pre-taped roundtable conversation in which Trump sat with six Americans who were formerly held hostage overseas, only to be freed and brought home by his administration, the president sat listening to an American pastor who had been held in Turkey and faced a 28-year prison term.

After the pastor, Andrew Brunson, shared his gratitude for being brought home, Trump told him, “I have to say, that to me, President Erdogan was very good.”

That would be Recep Tayyip Erdogan — the brutal Turkish dictator whose government had imprisoned Brunson in the first place.

Trump went on, “I know that they had you scheduled for a long time, and you were a very innocent person. And he ultimately, after we had a few conversations, he agreed, so we appreciate that. And we appreciate the people of Turkey. And you still appreciate the people of Turkey, I understand, right?”

Brunson, who had stared straight forward, motionless, during Trump’s commentary, replied, “We love the Turkish people.”

Trump has gotten himself in hot water before with his paeans to tyrants. But this was especially cringe-worthy, given how Trump’s bizarre annotation distracted from what otherwise was shaping up as powerful, unifying moment.

Only Donald Trump could get a video with freed hostage to look like … well, like a hostage video.

There were other speeches afterwards: Donald Trump, Jr., doing his best Shining impersonation, Tim Scott delivering a very good speech that would have been at the heart of any Republican Party before 2016, and Nikki Haley splitting the difference (and not in a good way).

None of those moments, however, were as important as Trump’s tone-deaf praise for Erdogan. It was a reminder that no television makeup, no camera angle, and no production value can hide who Donald Trump really is: a friend to tyrants and a narcissistic misanthrope to everyone else.

He can’t help it. It’s his nature.

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