There was little from anyone other than Trump’s wife, Melania, that offered a soft portrait of the presumptive nominee and suggested a party ... looking to expand its coalition. Instead, the focus on Clinton was used as a way to bind the GOP’s base.Did all this stir up fight-or-flight hormones in the TV audience? Probably. Is that how you win a presidential election? I don't think so.
Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani offered testimony on behalf of Trump as a good and decent man maligned by the news media and the Clinton campaign, but the heart of his speech was an emotional charge against Islamist terrorists, an attack on President Obama and a warning that the United States would, under Trump, go after them with a vengeance. When he turned to Clinton, a former secretary of state, he accused her of a “dereliction of duty” that had left the Middle East in greater chaos. “Who would want Hillary Clinton to protect us? I wouldn’t,” he added.
The evening included an emotional speech from Pat Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, who was among those killed during an attack on a diplomatic consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. “I blame Hillary personally for the death of my son,” she said. Pointing to a sign that said “Hillary for Prison,” she said, “She ought to be in stripes.”
Smith was not the only person to talk about Benghazi or to suggest that the former secretary of state should be in prison, which is something that is commonly heard at Trump rallies and other Republican events. Near the end of the evening, the remaining delegates chanted, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” They were joined by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn from the podium.
You win a presidential election by offering hope -- yes, sometimes after stirring up fear, but there needs to be hope at the end. Last night, it wasn't there. The praise for Donald Trump as a man who'll solve our problems was formulaic. All the passion -- in Rudy Giuliani's case, passion verging on operatic hysteria -- went into railing against the horrors of life in America today and the moral depravity of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
This wasn't a party "looking to expand its coalition" -- or if it was, it was trying to do it the way you try to win an argument on the Internet, by digging in your heels and making your case in an increasingly uncompromising way, with no effort to concede points or bridge differences. When does that kind of argumentation ever really change anyone's mind?
Now, this doesn't mean that the convention will necessarily turn out to be a failure for the Republicans. Eventually we'll get Trump's speech -- and, regrettably, that may give some swing voters hope. Unlike the speakers last night, Trump is a happy warrior -- he's nasty and negative, but most of the time you can tell he's enjoying himself. And too many Americans think he could be the light at the end of the tunnel, the guy who can solve our problems, because he's rich and he tells us incessantly how great he is at everything.
On the other hand, he's probably going to deliver a Teleprompter address, said to be modeled on Richard Nixon's 1968 convention speech. I don't know why he'd see that as a model -- to have a successful convention in 1968, all you had to do was be better than the Democrats, which was an extremely low bar that year. And even after that, Nixon won the popular vote by less than a percentage point.
I think Trump will give a stiff speech from a Teleprompter; it could be reasonably effective, though he probably won't seem to be enjoying himself. Or he'll wing it, which will be fun for him, but probably not so much fun for non-fans who may never have previously watched one of his long, rambling free-form improvisations.
But we'll see. Meanwhile, all the talk this morning is about Melania Trump's speech, a paragraph of which was plagiarized from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech.
I don't think this will have a huge impact in the long run, but it looks incompetent, in a way ordinary people can understand. Everyone has had to write papers for school -- term papers, college papers -- and we all know that plagiarism is wrong, even if we've done it. Plagiarism, it seems to me, is more surprising to outsiders than to professional writers or political pros. If you're a paid speechwriter, how hard is it not to steal? And steal from Michelle Obama, whom you despise and whose husband you think is the Antichrist?
I think at least 45% of Americans still think Donald Trump is competent. This undercuts that impression -- not enough, alas, but it doesn't help him.