Trump finally figures out his election strategy
Let me start by acknowledging that very few of you care about Mike Pence.
I know this to be true, because the interest in our live blog of the Republican convention today dropped off a cliff the moment he started talking. It fell out of our top stories section before I'd even obtained my first red wine of the evening.
Be that as it may, we do need to talk about Mr Pence, because his speech today was revealing on a few different levels.
No, I'm not (only) talking about the slightly absurd tweak he made to President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan. Although we will get to that.
Our main talking point here is Mr Pence's fixation on LAW and ORDER.
LAW & ORDER!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2020
This was the dominant message of the Vice President's speech - that Joe Biden and the Democrats are for violent anarchy, and Donald Trump is for enforcing the LAW.
"The hard truth is you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America," Mr Pence warned.
"Under President Trump, we will stand with those who stand on the thin blue line. And we're not going to defund the police. Not now, not ever.
"We're passing through a time of testing. But in the midst of this global pandemic, just as our nation had begun to recover, we've seen violence and chaos in the streets of our major cities.
"President Trump and I will always support the right of Americans to peaceful protest. But rioting and looting is not peaceful protest. Tearing down statues is not free speech. And those who do so will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
"The violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha. Too many heroes have died defending our freedom for us to strike each other down. We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American, of every race and creed and colour."
Mr Pence conveyed the seriousness of this message with his trademark half-suspicious, half-sultry squint at the camera.
Despite the Vice President's reference to Kenosha, Wisconsin there, you might have noticed the rather obvious thing missing from his remarks.
There was no mention whatsoever of Jacob Blake, the unarmed African-American man police in Kenosha shot in the back seven times on Sunday.
That shooting was the catalyst for renewed protests against police brutality across the United States, and yes, for incidents of violence and arson as well.
In fact, Mr Pence did not mention by name a single African-American killed by police.
The closest he ever got was a rather vague promise that the Trump administration would "keep supporting law enforcement and keep supporting our African-American and minority communities".
This was the natural culmination of an entire day's speeches. Again and again, the Republican speakers drilled home their unambiguous, unqualified support for law enforcement.
"It took 244 years to build this great nation, flaws and all, but we stand to lose it in a tiny fraction of that time if we continue down the path taken by the Democrats and their radical supporters," said South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.
"From Seattle and Portland to Washington and New York, Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs."
"Tonight I want to talk to you about another kind of hero. The kind Democrats don't recognise because they don't fit into their narrative. I'm talking about the heroes of our law enforcement and armed services," said Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, who you may recognise as the person who convinced Taylor Swift to start talking about politics.
"Leftists try to turn them into villains. They want to cancel them. But I'm here to tell you these heroes can't be cancelled.
"As hard as Democrats try, they can't cancel our heroes. They can't contest their bravery. And they can't dismiss the powerful sense of service that lives deep in their souls.
"Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their radical allies tried to destroy these heroes, because if there are no heroes to inspire us, government can control us."
For months, the Trump campaign has struggled to come up with one clear, consistent message to use against Mr Biden.
It has tried the angle that he is a "puppet" of the Democratic Party's "socialist" left wing; a Trojan Horse of sorts for Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It has tried implying he is too senile to be president. Neither approach seemed to work particularly well.
This week, the Republicans appear to have settled on their core message. Have you got it yet? The Democrats are pro-rioter and anti-police. They want to get rid of the cops altogether. You won't be safe if Joe Biden wins. LAW and ORDER.
Mr Trump and Mr Pence have decided to go all-in on defending the police. They have picked their side, uncomfortable racial undertones be damned.
Mr Biden, meanwhile, is still trying to straddle both sides of the criminal justice debate.
In a video message posted online today, he condemned both the violence from protesters and the shooting of unarmed African-Americans by police.
"What I saw on that video makes me sick," he said, referring to footage of the incident involving Mr Blake.
"Once again, a black man has been shot by the police in broad daylight, with the whole world watching."
He said he had spoken to Mr Blake's family, telling them "justice must and will be done".
"Our hearts are with his family. Especially his children. It's horrible, what they saw, watching their father get shot," he said.
"Put yourselves in the shoes of every black father and black mother in this country and ask is this what we want America to be? Is this the country we should be?"
Mr Biden then pivoted to a condemnation of the rioters.
"As I said after George Floyd's murder, protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary, but burning down communities is not protest," he said.
"It's needless violence. Violence that endangers lives; violence that guts business and shutters businesses that serve the community. That is wrong.
"In the midst of this pain, the wisest words that I've heard spoken so far have come from Julia Jackson, Jacob's mother. She looked at the damage done in her community and she said, 'This doesn't reflect my son, or my family.'
"So let's unite and heal, do justice, and the violence, and end systemic racism in this country."
Once again, a Black man — Jacob Blake — was shot by the police. In front of his children. It makes me sick.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 26, 2020
Is this the country we want to be?
Needless violence won’t heal us. We need to end the violence — and peacefully come together to demand justice. pic.twitter.com/WdNqrxA3PK
It would be remiss of me to end this wrap without coming back to Mr Pence's closing line, which sounded like something out of Veep.
"With President Trump in the White House for four more years, and with God's help, we will make America great again ... again," he said.
Was it supposed to be tongue-in-cheek? I honestly have no idea. Mr Pence's facial expression never really changes, so it's hard to tell when he is being lighthearted.
In any case, it was rather telling, as re-election campaign slogans go.
Mr Pence and Mr Trump have both made it abundantly clear that they feel they delivered on their 2016 promise to make the United States "great again", before the coronavirus came along and inconveniently wrecked everything.
So, Mr Trump's convoluted argument to voters goes a little something like this: 'Things were bad on Obama's watch, and then I made them good, then they got bad again on my watch, but it wasn't my fault - and actually they're not that bad anyway, it only looks that way because we do so much testing, and things will get way worse under Biden - but anyway trust me, I'm totally going to make them good again.'
It's hard to fit that on a bumper sticker, so Mr Pence ended up with his "Make America Great Again … again" line.
Is it a convincing argument? Who knows. We'll see whether Mr Trump can improve on it tomorrow, when he delivers his own speech from the White House.
Originally published as Trump finally figures out election strategy