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The Republican National Convention is next week and we’re slowly learning more about what it might look like – though some details are still up in the air.
But let’s back up first.
There’s an obvious question…
What IS the Republican National Convention?
OK, good question.
Party conventions take place once every four years – they are the ceremonial crowning of the party’s presidential candidate as they prepare for the final phase of campaigning.
Last time around, we saw the Trump family take centre stage to a backdrop of fireworks and a sea of red, white and blue balloons.
It’s also where party officials wrap up other less-glamorous business, like unveiling the political platform and adopting rules.
As the sitting president, Trump is the de facto nominee, but it’s not official until the party anoints him at the convention.
This year, that will happen at the end of four days of convention events between 21-24 August.
How will the Republican National Convention work this year?
Even Republicans have been trying to figure this out.
The conventions of years past have been glitzy affairs, bringing together thousands of delegates, party leaders, activists and celebrities for receptions, speeches and general hyping up of the presidential candidate.
But the pandemic has upended all that.
Unlike its Democratic counterpart, the Republican Convention still plans on hosting some in-person business.
But people will need to wear masks and social distance. Those attending will also be given a self-swab Covid-19 test before travelling and entering their hotels.
OK, so where will Trump be?
He will accept the nomination in a “real speech on Thursday”, live from the White House.
This hasn’t been entirely well-received – with critics arguing using federal property for a campaign speech is unethical.
Three things to watch out for
Few incumbent presidents of the modern era have faced a challenge as great as the one before Donald Trump in the final months of their re-election campaign. He has consistently trailed Joe Biden in the polls by a modest but significant margin for months. The Republican Convention is one of his last, best opportunities to turn the tide.
The coronavirus pandemic has made a traditional convention format impractical, but it appears the Republicans will try to come close to replicating the feel of one. Unlike the Democrats, they will have audiences for many of their speeches, including Donald Trump’s Thursday night address, which will be held from the South Lawn of the White House.
That speech will be a good guide for how the Republicans hope to conduct their campaign over the final months. Will he focus on tearing down Joe Biden or on accomplishments from early in his presidency? Or will he try to convince the public that the worst days of the pandemic are over?
The Democrats during their convention turned to voices from “ordinary” Americans – immigrants, workers and minorities – who said they had been harmed by the president’s policies. The Republicans will counter with ones who will recount how they’ve been helped – or who are worried about what the Democrats would do in power. Will they make a compelling case?
The rest of the week will be filled with Republican officeholders of various levels. Some, including Vice-President Mike Pence, will be vying for position to lead the party once Trump leaves office – either next year or in 2024.
Four years ago, Trump defied conventional practices and wisdom to win the presidency. He’s remade the Republican Party in his image, with an emphasis on conservative populism and sometimes brash rhetoric. That new party, his party, will be on full display this week
If the battle to be Trump’s political heirs is one potential theme of the convention, another will be the dynamic among his actual heirs. The president’s wife, along with three of his children – Eric, Don Jr and Tiffany – are all scheduled set to speak.
The Trump family has had more than its share of drama – most recently with secret recordings of sister Maryanne Barry disparaging the president. Will this week be more like the Brady Bunch or King Lear?
Who are the speakers this year?
Specific timings have not yet been announced, but as well as Mr Trump himself, First Lady Melania Trump will speak on Tuesday, followed by Vice-President Mike Pence on Wednesday.
Mr Pence will accept his running mate role from Fort McHenry in Baltimore. It’s a place heavy with historical significance, because it is where US soldiers withstood the might of the British in 1814, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became the national anthem.
Francis Scott Key saw the flag at the fort and wrote the words that later became the national anthem
We can expect addresses from the rest of the Trump family on Monday.
We can also expect this year’s convention to be wholly pro-Trump in tone, unlike 2016 when the political outsider was met with pushback from some party members.
Planners say Trump will be featured on all four days of the convention – but we’ll hear from “everyday” Americans too.
Like its Democratic counterpart, the Republican programme will also be a mix of pre-recorded and live speeches, based in Washington DC.
Each day will follow themes of America as the land of promise, opportunity, heroes and – in a nod to Trump’s slogan – greatness.
It wouldn’t be a political show without a bit of controversy, and some of the additional voices will certainly draw ire from Trump critics.
The St Louis couple who made headlines for brandishing guns at protesters who they said were threatening them will make an appearance; so will a high school student criticised for a viral video with a Native American protester last January, and an anti-abortion activist.
As for who else might take the stage, virtual or otherwise, pundits predict we will see the president’s top defenders, like Congressman Kevin McCarthy – the minority House leader from California – and Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio are likely to get air-time, as well as former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.
How does the voting work?
There’s a roll call when delegates from states and territories across the US say which candidate they are backing. This time, that’s the president.
State delegates vote in line with the results of their state primary results – and in the case of Republicans, they are bound to do so. There are also unpledged delegates who can vote freely – these are two national committee members and the party chairperson from each state.
With Trump as the incumbent, some states opted out of hosting primary elections this year and automatically gave their delegates to him.
If you need a refresher on all things primary and caucus, .
What happens next?
Now we watch as campaigning heats up before the general election on 3 November.
Be sure to set a reminder for the debates too, where we’ll see Biden and Trump battle to win over voters. The first presidential debate is scheduled for 29 September with two more in October.