Did you know that the GOP had a theme for yesterday’s convention presentations? It was actually, “Make America Work Again.” I guess that means that speakers were supposed to talk about the economy and job creation. But you wouldn’t have guessed it from watching last night. The topic hardly came up.
Instead, over the last few days, the theme of the convention so far has actually been, “Lock her up” (referring to Hillary Clinton, of course). Andrew Prokop documents that three speakers Monday night inspired that chant from the crowd: Republican Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Pat Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, who died in the Benghazi attacks. While Chris Christie didn’t chant those words in his speech last night, his “prosecution” of Hillary Clinton was designed to elicit exactly that kind of response.
“Tonight, as a former federal prosecutor, I welcome the opportunity to hold her accountable for her performance and her character,” Christie said. “We must present those facts to you, a jury of her peers, both in this hall and in living rooms around our nation. Since the Justice Department refuses to allow you to render a verdict, let’s present the case now, on the facts, against Hillary Clinton.”
Then he ran through a series of familiar foreign policy criticisms of the Clinton and Obama administration — the Libya intervention, the attempt at a Russia “reset,” the Iran deal. But after each, he asked the crowd, “Is Hillary Clinton guilty or not guilty?”
The crowd shouted back with joy ever time, “Guilty!” And four times, they halls filled with cries of, “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!”
This is unprecedented in American politics. In many ways it speaks to the vacuity of any coherent GOP response to the actual policies Clinton has proposed. As we’ve seen, from the Republican perspective, this is not an election about ideas. It is a guttural fear-based response that has been ignited by a party that doesn’t really care about governing.
As I watched this erupt from the floor of the convention, I was reminded of several reactions from the audience at the GOP debates in 2012. For example, they cheered a mention of the 234 executions on Gov. Rick Perry’s watch, booed a gay soldier who was serving in Iraq for asking a question about ending DADT and yelled “Let him die” when Ron Paul was asked a question about what he would say to a young man with a serious illness who didn’t have health insurance. That was the kind of fever that was boiling up in the Republican base four years ago and has now managed to erupt in support of Donald Trump.
Republicans fanned the flames of this fever years ago in order to justify their post-policy obstruction of President Obama. Now the base has nominated a candidate who feeds off of it and, in return, feeds it back to the base. Politicians like Chris Christie have bought into it all and joined right in. It is an ugly sight to behold. I don’t believe that future historians will be kind to them for that.