On Thursday night, I sat in a booth with several other journalists and watched Donald Trump tell America he was going to save us.
He was going to save us from the undocumented immigrant criminals, the lazy politicians, the bad trade deals, the violence in our streets and the terrorism abroad. His speech was more disciplined, less bombastic and certainly more organized than just about any I have seen him give in the last year.
The speech was also a cavalcade of racist dreck, so blatant that former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke tweeted, “Couldn’t have said it better,” right after the Republican presidential nominee finished speaking.
The speech was not a compilation, a mixtape or even a "greatest hits." It was simply a recycled version of every Trump speech over the last year, focused on Hillary Clinton, with plenty of red meat for Republicans, but not necessarily people of color or independent voters. However, if you haven’t heard a ton of Trump speeches over the year, here are the three main takeaways from Thursday night.
1. A Subtle Shift in Tone
While liberals will decry Trump’s speech about pushing out immigrants and his labeling of refugees as terrorists, this was actually one of his most restrained speeches ever. Trump attempted to stay on message, ticking off a list of policy problems rather than just attacking Clinton and Barack Obama personally. Further, he actually brought to the forefront some of the problems of the African-American and Latino constituencies with whom he’s doing so horribly.
However, you could also tell what a strain this was for the Trumps in general. During his daughter Ivanka’s speech, she stumbled repeatedly trying to say the word "ethnicities." During Donald Trump’s speech, he was literally straining to say the term “LGBTQ.” Makes you wonder what words they used at home. However, for those who have desperately been looking for Trump to "moderate" his tone for a general election, this might be their best example.
2. The Happiest Place on Earth
All week, the Republican convention looked like a blowout game from the Cleveland Cavaliers (except with a lot fewer black people on the center stage). The room was barely full, people were walking out early, and it never took more than 10 minutes to walk in or out of the building. By comparison, it usually took almost twice as long to get in and out of the GOP convention in 2012 and 2008.
Thursday during Trump’s speech was the first time the convention hall seemed entirely full, people cheered the whole night and everyone didn’t run out of the building before the last “God bless America” was said. The crowd ate up everything Trump had to say, and it felt, for the first time all week, that the convention was an organized place instead of a series of disjointed speeches at a shotgun wedding.
3. Donald Trump Has No Answers
The question of "How are you going to pay for it?" has always rung hollow to me during campaign season. Much of what candidates are trying to do is get you to believe in them; the specific details of how things will get done get released over time or can be acquired online.
Donald Trump, however, has pushed the envelope of validity for this idea. For the problems he identified—bad trade deals, murdering immigrants, lack of American pride, etc.—he offered absolutely no idea on how to fix any of them Thursday night. Perhaps this was because he spent the majority of his time complaining about Hillary Clinton. Maybe that's why he couldn’t fit in any solutions. But after 75 excruciating minutes of speaking, a few answers about something would have been nice.
How will Trump stop undocumented immigrant crime? Building the wall? What about the other immigrants who commit crimes who don’t come from Mexico? How will Trump provide jobs to the 58 percent of African-American young people he says are unemployed? Through "better deals," he says, but how is that going to happen?
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.