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GOP Strategist Weighs In On Democrats' Plan To Win In November

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How does the Democratic convention look to a Republican strategist? Scott Jennings is on the line. He's a former aide to Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and a regular guest on this program. Scott, welcome back.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Hey. Thanks. And good morning.

INSKEEP: Let's hear the roll call of the states in this virtual convention - at least a little bit of the roll call, anyway. Democrats are casting their ballots for Joe Biden and also showcasing their diversity, as we'll here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

CHUCK DEGNAN: We must elect a president who will respect our voices, protect our waters and address climate change. Alaska casts seven votes Bernie Sanders and 12 votes for the next president, Joe Biden.

CRAIG HICKMAN: My husband and I aren't corporate tycoons. We just want to make an honest living and feed our community. Small businesses like ours are the backbone of rural economy...

COZZIE WATKINS: I'm putting on my mask. And we're going to every corner in North Carolina to help organize because...

CARMELO RIOS: (Non-English language spoken).

INSKEEP: Scott, what do you make of the presentation so far?

JENNINGS: Well, I sympathize with the people planning the conventions for both parties because of the unusual circumstances. I actually thought the geographic setup for the roll call vote last night was kind of neat, you know, to showcase some of the scenery from individual states. So I thought that was a pretty good turn and a great idea and made for some good TV.

INSKEEP: And are Democrats - so is this consistently good television in your view?

JENNINGS: Well, I don't know if it's all good television. I think some of the musical interludes, especially the one that closed out Night 1, was pretty bizarre, (laughter) frankly. But I think they're doing the best they can. I suspect Republicans are going to have to do something similar next week and, you know, give people a chance to speak and try to do some different things. The produced elements, Steve, I think, are very good. I thought the couple of the produced videos on both nights were very compelling.

So far, I think they're doing what they need to do, which is to try to motivate their turnout audience. You know, as an operative, I look at these things through the lens of turnout and persuasion. Who needs to be turned out? And who needs to be persuaded? The audience for the persuasion, I think, is quite small in this election. So what you're really trying to do at this convention is motivate people to turnout, which, as we know, was a problem for the Democratic ticket in 2016.

INSKEEP: Sure. Absolutely. Well, they had Michelle Obama the first night, the former first lady. And she made a substantive argument. I'd like to play a little bit of it. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHELLE OBAMA: He is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

INSKEEP: And, of course, he that she's referring to is President Trump. Her case there, it's interesting. It's not that he's mean, or that he's cruel, or that he's nasty, but that he is simply incompetent, doesn't know what he's doing in office. Is that an especially hard charge for Republicans to answer?

JENNINGS: Well, I think that they're going to answer back with their attacks on Joe Biden. He's been in office for 40 years. The problems you complain about he has never fixed, he has never come close to fixing. And so there'll be a countercharge on that. I thought the most effective part about Michelle Obama's presentation, though, was just the exhortation to the Democratic constituencies that didn't turn out in 2016 to make sure they vote. She is a very effective and compelling speaker.

I think if there's a problem with Michelle Obama - if you want to call it that - it's that she may be too good, you know? I suspect her presentation and her appearance is going to outshine Joe Biden's by a mile because she's really good. And I think Biden has been a little shaky in his public appearances. And so she may outshine him a bit. But she's compelling, no doubt. And I suspect Democrats were listening carefully to what she had to say.

INSKEEP: But I'm curious about that argument about competence. Clearly, Republicans are closer to President Trump by and large on the issues. But do you think Republicans can look at each other and say, yeah, this president's competent, knows what he's doing, very calm, very centered, very reassuring, knows how to manage the pandemic? Do you think Republicans are able to say that to each other?

JENNINGS: I think Republicans will look at the choice and say, you've got Joe Biden and a 40-year record that we don't particularly care for and, frankly, lately, that has veered very far to the left. And they'll look at Donald Trump. And even if they have nervousness or hesitation about certain parts of his record, they will ultimately judge a center-right direction for the government to be better than rolling the dice on Joe Biden.

And when I say roll the dice, I mean roll the dice on the possibility that he's going to be overwhelmed by the far-left elements of the Democratic Party. One of the messages that strikes me, Steve, is they're trying to portray him as moderate. They're trying to appeal to disaffected Republicans. But at the same time, they're wrestling with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Sanders himself said his agenda had been mainstreamed in the Democratic Party during his speech on Monday night.

INSKEEP: Thank you very much, Scott Jennings, Republican analyst, really appreciate it.

JENNINGS: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.