What to watch for Thursday at the RNC: Trump sets the tone

Coming up on the Thursday, August 27 edition of ‘Special Report’

Bret Baier gives you a sneak peek of the next show

Twenty-two days until early voting starts. Thirty-three days until the first presidential debate. Fifty-six days until the final presidential debate. Sixty-eight days until the presidential election.

President Trump, in his keynote address Thursday night at the Republican National Convention (RNC), has the opportunity to set the tone for all of that. As protests against police brutality and racism have often turned into violent riots, the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage and Louisiana and Texas are being battered by a hurricane so strong the storm surge has been called "unsurvivable," with a quality speech in what will be his highest-profile address since his inauguration, the president can frame the rest of the campaign on his terms.

But a weak speech could handicap the president's campaign, which is already down in the polls heading into the stretch run of the election season — the only other appearances of this stature Trump will make until Election Day will be on the debate stage next to Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Here's what to watch for on the final night of the RNC.


Trump's address is clearly the main event, and how he addresses the riots in places like Kenosha, Wis., the alleged instances of police misconduct that triggered them, the coronavirus pandemic and Hurricane Laura will be closely watched.

But on the most important night of the RNC, the party is also rolling out some of its other big guns, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton.

Cotton, according to one of his advisers, will "crush Biden on China" in a foreign policy-focused speech Thursday. And he told Fox News earlier this week that he plans to reach back into Biden's nearly 50-year-long record to underscore the point previously made by former Obama Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that Biden has "been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

Among his points, Cotton said, will be a vote Biden took soon after entering the Senate to "cut off aid to South Vietnam, which led directly to the evacuation of Americans from the rooftop of our embassy in Saigon."

Thursday's scheduled speakers are: HUD Secretary Ben Carson; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif; Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J.; Ivanka Trump; Ja'Ron Smith; Ann Dorn; Debbie Flood; Rudy Giuliani; Franklin Graham; Alice Johnson; Wade Mayfield; Carl and Marsha Mueller; Dana White; and President Trump.

There is also a possibility that additional speakers will be announced.

May 5, 2020: Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing for Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Cotton will deliver a speech Thursday at the RNC that one advisor said will "crush Biden on China." (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)


Like the Democratic National Convention, the RNC will have a theme for each night. The overall theme for the week is "Honoring the Great American Story."

On Thursday, the nightly theme will be "Land of Greatness."


The broadcast will run from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Biden response

Aug. 12, 2020: Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks after Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden introduced her as his running mate during a campaign event at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Del. She’ll preempt the RNC Thursday with a speech attacking the president for a lack of leadership on the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaste)

The Biden campaign and Democrats have run real-time counterprogramming on social media each night of the RNC so far, and on Monday preempted the RNC by announcing a "Republicans for Biden" initiative headlined by former Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona.

On Thursday morning, websites for "43 Alumni for Biden" and "Romney Alumni for Biden" — coalitions representing staffers of former President George W. Bush and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney who are supporting Biden in his quest to remove Trump from the White House – went live.

Biden's campaign will roll its highest-profile counter to Republicans' pro-Trump programming yet, with vice-presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris of California giving a speech ahead of the RNC about Trump's "profound failure of leadership" on the coronavirus pandemic.

The comments will be Harris' true debut as the Biden campaign's "attack dog" against Trump — she has previously vowed to "prosecute the case" against the president.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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