I can barely believe I’m saying this, but President Donald Trump’s speech to the Republican National Convention today almost made me miss Kimberly Guilfoyle.
At least her address, on day one of the convention, was memorable.
Sure, Ms Guilfoyle was bellowing apocalyptic nonsense at an empty room, but you can’t deny she got her point across.
“THEY WANT TO DESTROY THIS COUNTRY AND EVERYTHING THAT WE HAVE FOUGHT FOR AND HOLD DEAR,” she yelled.
It was a spectacle! You couldn’t look away.
For much of Mr Trump’s speech, the challenge was to stay awake.
Those are words I never thought I’d read, let alone write. Because whatever faults the President of the United States might have, being boring is not usually one of them. The man is a born entertainer.
And in theory, all the ingredients were there for a typically captivating show.
Mr Trump spoke with the White House itself serving as his grandiose backdrop, something no other president has ever done.
Unlike most of the other convention speakers, he had a crowd of adoring fans in front of him, eager to applaud his every word.
And on paper, the President’s speech included a bunch of extraordinarily strident, eye-catching lines. Let me pick out a few examples.
“Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans or whether we give free reign to violent anarchists and agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens.”
“This election will decide whether we will defend the American way of life, or whether we will allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it.”
“Joe Biden has spent his entire career outsourcing their dreams, and the dreams of American workers, offshoring their jobs, opening their borders, and sending their sons and daughters to fight in endless foreign wars – wars that never ended.”
“Joe Biden is not a saviour of America’s soul. He is the destroyer of America’s jobs and, if given the chance, he will be the destroyer of American greatness.”
Joe Biden is the destroyer! That’s pretty incendiary. It is certainly blunter than all that hokey crap Mr Biden said about “darkness and light” last week.
And yet, for reasons difficult to place, all of these lines just sounded flat when they came out of Mr Trump’s mouth.
Watch enough of the President’s public appearances and you will realise there are, in essence, two different versions of him.
First, there’s the freewheeling, ranty Trump who goes off-script and says unpredictable, sometimes crazy stuff.
This is the guy you usually see at his political rallies, feeding off the adulation of a raucous crowd. You never know what he’ll say next.
Then there’s the bored, going-through-the-motions Trump, who reads from his teleprompter in a dull monotone. Often you get the impression, as he delivers it, that he himself is seeing the speech for the first time.
For most of his seventy-minute convention speech – perhaps the most important speech of his political career – we got the second Trump.
He reeled off a disjointed list of his administration’s achievements, and issued dire warnings about the risks of a Biden presidency. All the blatant fibs and exaggerations that usually inflame his critics were there.
For instance, at one point, Mr Trump claimed his approach to the coronavirus all along was to “save as many lives as possible” by “focusing on the science, the facts and the data”.
He uttered this claim in front of 1500 people, packed together like sardines, the vast majority of whom were without face masks. On a day when another 40,000 Americans were diagnosed with the virus.
He uttered it in defiance of history, which shows he downplayed the threat of the disease for months and repeatedly contradicted his own government’s health experts.
At another point, the President repeated his frequent, obviously false claim that he passed a government program called Veterans Choice, even though it was actually passed in 2014, when Barack Obama was president.
The collective response of his political enemies was not to get outraged, but to shrug. It was as though they’d all been given tranquillisers.
I don’t want to give you the impression that Mr Biden was a whole lot better. This time last week, I wrote that parts of his speech were “confected to the point of absurdity”.
But he was much more concise, at 25 minutes compared to Mr Trump’s 70.
Part of the problem, I think, was the jarring difference in tone between the President and whoever actually wrote his speech.
Consider this excerpt. It came right near the climax of Mr Trump’s remarks.
“Our American ancestors sailed across the perilous ocean to build a new life on a new continent. They braved the freezing winters, crossed the raging rivers, scaled the rocky peaks, trekked the dangerous forests, and worked from dawn till dusk,” Mr Trump said.
“These pioneers didn’t have money. They didn’t have fame. But they had each other. They loved their families, they loved their country, and they loved their God.
“When opportunity beckoned, they picked up their bibles, packed up their belongings, climbed into their covered wagons, and set out West for the next adventure. Ranchers and miners, cowboys and sheriffs, farmers and settlers.
“They pressed on past the Mississippi to stake a claim in the wild frontier. Legends were born. Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, Davy Crockett, and Buffalo Bill. Americans built their beautiful homesteads on the open range. Soon, they had churches and communities, then towns, and with time, great centres of industry and commerce.”
This was clearly meant to be a soaring, almost poetic piece of oratory, though I doubt even Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama could have made it work.
More importantly, it was so, so far removed from the way Donald Trump actually talks.
For a President whose greatest strength is meant to be his genuineness, rhetoric like this is incredibly counter-productive. It breaks your immersion. It’s as though Tyrion Lannister suddenly started to speak with a cockney accent.
I should acknowledge that Mr Trump wasn’t the only speaker on his convention’s final day.
His daughter Ivanka offered her usual, broadly meaningless platitudes. You know, stuff like: “Washington has not changed Donald Trump. Donald Trump has changed Washington.”
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is always a bundle of conspiratorial fun, warned the Democratic Party’s left wing was “hidden inside” Mr Biden’s body, “waiting to execute their pro-criminal, anti-police policies”.
The one indisputably effective message came from Ann Dorn, whose husband David Dorn, a police captain, was killed in June after intervening in a looting.
“I relive the horror in my mind every single day,” Ms Dorn said, fighting through tears.
“My hope is that having you relive it with me now will help shake this country from this nightmare we’re witnessing in our cities and bring about positive, peaceful change.
“We must heal before we can affect change. But we cannot heal amid devastation and chaos. President Trump knows we need more Davids in our community, not fewer.
“We need to come together in peace and remember that every life is precious.”
There is some complicated tension within Ms Dorn’s family – David Dorn’s daughters objected to his widow’s appearance at the convention, insisting their father would never have supported Mr Trump – but her words were undoubtedly heartfelt.
In any case, the most effective contributor to Mr Trump’s re-election campaign may have been his most vociferous opponents.
As the people who attended the President’s speech filed out of the White House grounds, they were accosted by groups of protesters, who booed loudly and shouted profanity-laden abuse.
The scenes were ugly; the images powerful. Somehow, the people who hate Mr Trump the most managed to make a better case for his “law and order” message than the President himself did.