Editor’s Note: John Avlon is a senior political analyst. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinions at CNN.
“Don’t listen to what he says, look at what he does.”
It’s a phrase you hear a lot from Trump supporters when they’re embarrassed by the President’s latest Twitter tantrum.
So let’s apply that same standard to the Republican National Convention to date.
Because suddenly Team Trump seems to care a lot about reaching out beyond their base after three and half years of doing the opposite in office.
For example, 12 African Americans have been slotted to speak in support of President Trump. It’s a very conscious – and welcome – show of diversity.
But let’s contrast that stat with the number of African Americans who are senior level White House staffers. That would be 1 – Ja’Ron Smith, a deputy assistant to the President who is scheduled to speak tonight.
What about Black Trump cabinet secretaries? That would be one as well: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.
Okay, but a lot is being made of Trump passing criminal justice reform…so maybe Trump’s enthusiasm for diversity is reflected in his US Attorney picks. But only 2 of Trump’s appointees are of African American descent: Louis V. Franklin of Alabama’s Middle District and Kenji Price of Hawaii.
So by the end of this convention, Trump will have put three times as many African Americans on stage as he has appointed to his West Wing, Cabinet and US Attorney’s offices…combined.
It’s a sign that the rhetoric doesn’t remotely match the record.
What about the repeated claim that President Trump has put “far more” women in significant positions than “any other president in US history”?
It’s just not true.
About 25% of Trump’s Senate-confirmed positions have been filled by women.
But 37% of the first 512 appointees in former President Bill Clinton’s administration were women, while the count was at 43% at the start of former President Barack Obama’s second term.
Trump has also nominated fewer women at the cabinet level than those Democrats did.
On the second night of the RNC, Trump conducted a naturalization ceremony from the White House – likely violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities while they are working in an official capacity – in an unprecedented and highly uncharacteristic move, given his relentless focus on restricting immigration. That’s why Trump’s former Department of Homeland Security Chief of Staff Miles Taylor told Chris Cuomo that the naturalization ceremony was “incredibly ironic,” adding, “This is a president who I witnessed wanting to cut immigration as far as humanly possible…his policies were designed to make it more difficult for both legal, illegal, any immigrants to get into the United States.”
Just as uncharacteristic is the Trump convention’s nods to bipartisanship – at least in the form of Georgia State Representative Vernon Jones, a Democrat who’s endorsed Trump. Jones has faced several scandals during his years of public service. Jones, who was the chief executive of DeKalb County from 2001 to 2009, was fined $27,750 in a racial discrimination lawsuit, with the jury finding that he “created and maintained a hostile work environment.” In 2012, a special grand jury recommended an investigation into bid-rigging and theft, though the DA declined to prosecute.
Jones is one of just two elected Democrats to endorse Trump’s re-election – in addition to Bob Vlaisavljevich, the mayor of Eveleth, Minnesota. There’s three if you count corrupt former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich…a former Celebrity Apprentice contestant who Trump granted clemency and sprung from prison six years early.
In contrast, more than 120 prominent Republicans have endorsed Joe Biden, including at least six former Senators and two dozen former Congressmen, and hundreds of Bush administration alumnae including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. Even former members of the Trump administration have turned against the President.
To be sure, it hasn’t all been outreach beyond the base. There’s been plenty of red meat for Trump’s loyal followers. There have been unhinged and baseless accusations that Democrats want to ban religion and guns and turn America into a version of communist China. These insults are almost unremarkable against the typical tone and tenor of the Trump administration.
Good people can disagree on difficult issues like abortion – but the Trump’s convention included an anti-abortion speech by a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who also supports “head of household voting” – which was historically used to deny women the right to vote, since men were thought to vote on behalf of the household before the 19th amendment was adopted. That’s something we should be able to agree is a very bad idea.
The gun-toting McCloskeys of St. Louis accused Democrats of wanting to “abolish the suburbs” – but it turns out they have a long history of suing their neighbors, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. One lawsuit accused neighbors of breaking a rule that prohibited unmarried people from living together by allowing a gay couple live there. Mark McCloskey also allegedly destroyed a beehive at nearby synagogue placed just outside his mansion’s wall. Kids who had hoped to harvest honey for Rosh Hashanah cried, according to the Rabbi, who later called the couple “bullies.”
Mary Ann Mendoza, a member of the Trump campaign’s advisory board, was cut from the RNC program at the last minute after she tweeted a conspiracy theory about a Jewish plot to enslave the world promoted by QAnon. She later deleted the post and tweeted an apology “for not paying attention to the intent of the whole message.”
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Then again, the Trump convention’s strategy is designed to send mixed messages. So Vice President Mike Pence tried to cast the administration’s response to the pandemic as heroic while ignoring the fact that we have the worst record in the world when it comes to the number of infections and deaths. He appropriately honors a slain federal officer from Oakland but gives the impression he was killed by rioters, when his alleged killer was a member of a right-wing extremist militia group bent on provoking a second civil war. And an the administration that says it’s all about Law and Order has announced that laws like the Hatch Act don’t apply to them.
So don’t just listen to what they say at Trump’s convention. Look at what they’ve done.