The Republican National Convention continued Wednesday night, with the Pences -- Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence -- taking center stage.
Below, my hits -- and misses -- from the night that was.
* Madison Cawthorn: The Republican nominee in North Carolina's 11th District beat President Donald Trump's endorsed candidate in the Republican primary earlier this summer. But he has since been embraced by Trump and every other Republican leader -- touted as a future star of the party. And Cawthorn, who is in a wheelchair after a car accident at age 18, delivered on that promise in his speech Wednesday night. Avoiding the sort of one-liners and snarky attacks favored by the likes of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, he instead urged that rarest of thing in today's politics: More listening and less talking. "To liberals I say, let's have a conversation," said Cawthorn. "To conservatives, let's define what we support and win the argument in areas like health care and the environment." (Cawthorn's speech wasn't perfect; he wrongly noted that James Madison had signed the Declaration of Independence.) But Cawthorn rising to his feet, with the aid of a walker, to finish his speech was moving except to only the most cynical and partisan people out there.
* Mike Pence: If the goal of the vice president's speech on Wednesday night was to make sure that Trump and the President's most ardent supporters view him as a trusted and loyal sidekick who is a sensible heir to the Trump legacy, well then, to borrow a phrase from another Republican president, mission accomplished. Pence's entire speech was dedicated to the idea that no matter what you think of what Trump says (and tweets), there's no question he has done what he said he would. While that is highly debatable -- particularly when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus (much more on that below) -- there's no question that the speech Pence gave helps him in the eyes of the Trump coalition within the GOP. (That's the group Pence will rely heavily on as his own base when -- oops, if -- he runs for president in 2024.) As will Pence's willingness to go in on Joe Biden as someone who lacks the required optimism to be president, who supports socialism and is beholden to the "radical left." Pence's speech was conventional in every aspect of the word. It was WAY too long. And "Make America Great Again. Again" is a very weird slogan on which to end a convention speech. But for Pence and what he wants to do next, it was likely effective.
* Karen Pence: The second lady gave a very safe speech. She stayed away from any sort of attacks on Democrats or, really, much praise for Trump. It was effectively an apolitical speech about her experiences with military veterans. But to the extent that the this convention has been about anger, untruth and lots of yelling -- I'm looking at you Kimberly Guilfoyle -- Karen Pence was a major and welcome change of pace.
* Flags, Flags, Flags!: There were American flags on stage at the Andrew W. Mellon auditorium in Washington, DC, where most of the speeches were given. (At least eight, by my count.) Flags stacked behind the podium where Mike Pence gave his speech at Fort McHenry. In the endless cutaways between speeches, there were flags at the Lincoln Memorial, flags at the Washington Monument, flags at locations I couldn't make out. FLAGS!
* Trace Adkins: If I could sing the "National Anthem" -- or, heck, talk -- in a voice that low, I feel like I would be more successful. In, like, life.
* Coronavirus: It was another night of the Republican convention in which the pandemic that has sickened 5.8 million Americans and killed 179,000 was barely mentioned. (Pence talked about it in his speech as a way to explain Trump's decisiveness and the efficacy of the administration's response to Covid-19. Uh, OK.) It's now abundantly clear that Trump and his political team want to send a message out of this convention that the coronavirus is mostly behind us -- thanks to Donald Trump! Unfortunately, infectious diseases don't heed the preferred messages of political conventions. And polling suggests that a majority of Americans believe that how the President handles the coronavirus is the single most important issue in the campaign. Ignoring the ongoing threat posed by coronavirus won't make it go away.
* Messaging on race: The shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has roiled the country, There are protests in the streets. The NBA players boycotted playoff games on Wednesday and were reportedly in a meeting to decide whether to simply end the season in order to focus on social activism. It was the latest thread in a series of incidents in which police officers shoot Black men across the country, and the latest spark in the powder keg of our ongoing national conversation about race in America. You wouldn't know any of this from watching the Republican convention Wednesday night. The only mention of Kenosha came in Mike Pence's speech at the end of the evening, when he said this: "Let me be clear, the violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha." Not exactly engaging in the complexities of the subject or the deep-seated racial injustice that stands at the heart of all this.
* Live speeches: Donald Trump said this about the Democratic National Convention last week: "They're taping their speeches. ... You want to go to a snooze, you know when you hear, when you hear speeches taped, it's like there's nothing very exciting about it." Uh, OK. The ONLY live speech of the entire third night of the convention was the one by Mike Pence. One live speech! In 150 minutes-plus of programming! Hope you enjoyed your snooze!
* Kristi Noem: The South Dakota governor has ambitions that go beyond the boundaries of her home state. Which made the lifeless speech she gave to kick off the third night of the convention all the more baffling. Noem just read the speech off the teleprompter, with no emotion and very little energy. The only way I knew she had reached the end of her address? The sweeping music playing her out.
* Marsha Blackburn: The Tennessee senator has made a name for herself in Republican circles by her willingness to go straight at Democrats, rhetorically speaking. She more than lived up to that reputation on Wednesday night, delivering a hammer and tongs attack on the socialism that she argued Democrats support. But if you actually listened to what she said, well, it was not only ridiculously over-the-top but also just plain old fear-mongering. One example: "If the Democrats had their way, they would keep you locked in your house until you become dependent on the government for everything," she said. "That sounds a lot like Communist China to me." Whaaaaa?
* Ric Grenell: Grenell is the former ambassador to Germany and former acting Director of National Intelligence. Which is an impressive resume! But like, did he really need 15-plus minutes in prime time to speak on the convention's third night? Can you imagine any staffer on Joe Biden's Senate staff (or presidential campaign) getting so much time to speak in such a critical moment of the convention? Very odd. And Grenell's speech was fine. Just fine. Nothing more.