Day One of the Republican National Convention was not so much about Making America Great Again as it was about the obvious corollary: America Really Stinks Now.
In other words, it’s a dark, scary place that requires a strong (read: strong-man) president, who would not only make America safe by defeating Hillary Clinton, but would, if necessary, as the convention crowd chanted, also “lock her up.”
If that’s your vision of America, if you think, as Donald Trump tweeted the other day, that we live in a divided crime scene, then this was the night — Make America Safe Again — for you.
The headlines from the night were Trump’s WWE-style entrance, Melania Trump’s warm but unrevealing speech (at least until it was revealed that her speechwriter had plagiarized an entire passage from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech) and Rudy Giuliani’s ALL-CAPS shout-a-thon in which he guaranteed, for better or worse, that Trump would do for America what Rudy had done for New York.
But the real story was the one that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort decided to let slip: that Trump was drawing inspiration for his acceptance speech from Richard Nixon’s speech at the 1968 convention. Yes, from that Richard Nixon, from the darkest reaches of Nixonland. Trump, running now as a Nixon-inspired law and order candidate, has already tried to draw a parallel between today and 1968, saying recently, as The New York Times noted, that “the ‘60s were bad, really bad. And it’s really bad now. America feels like it’s chaos again.”
The timing is sadly perfect for playing on people’s fears. The cop killings, first in Dallas and then in Baton Rouge, have put the country on edge. The Nice terror-truck killing has put the world on edge. The Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub had Trump congratulating himself for predicting that something like this was coming — and that self-congratulation, if nothing else, had to put everyone on edge.
Trump is counting on the fact that some may not remember what 1968 was actually like — cities set afire, police riots, assassinations, Vietnam, protesters filling the streets — and just figure that today is, well, close enough. Of course, some people might also remember that, as presidents go, Nixon might not have been the best model.
But Nixon could have gotten behind the night’s theme, which was to go after Clinton on emails, on Benghazi, on whatever else was in reach. The only uplifting moment of the night was Melania’s speech, which swiftly turned into the night’s biggest downer.
Still, it wasn’t all darkness and Nixonian rhetoric on Day One. There was also a bit of chaos, led in part by your own Colorado Republican Party, which led a brief walkout and vowed, in the words of delegate Kendal Unruh, that there was more trouble yet to come. Meanwhile, Regina Thomson, another Colorado delegate, was calling the convention leadership “thugs.”
The chaos was chaotic mostly by standard GOP convention standards. Basically, it was like a routine Trump rally. There would be protesters, and instead of the protesters being kicked out, they would walk out. This protest was over convention rules, which become a big thing every four years. The Colorado delegates, among others, wanted to be able to vote on a rule that would allow delegates to vote their conscience — in other words, to vote against Trump.
The protest started with an effort to defeat Trump in Cleveland. When that didn’t happen, it became an effort to embarrass him. The never-Trumpers didn’t get their vote, and, if the Trump forces strong-armed them, well, that’s what happens at conventions. The losers get gaveled down.
But the reason Trump was so opposed to a vote was that it would highlight the great divide in the Republican Party. It’s not exactly a secret. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is boycotting the Republican convention in his own state. Paul Ryan, who graduated from the University of Miami in Ohio, was lamenting Trump’s penchant for, let’s say, divisive rhetoric before the night began. There are some Republican senators — we mean you, Cory Gardner — who have decided to sit the election out by saying nothing.
But a would-be Colorado senator did take the chance to speak, not that many heard him. Darryl Glenn got his four minutes of fame in a prime-time slot at the convention — but, unfortunately for him, none of the cable channels apparently showed it. Or maybe it was fortunate for him, given some of the reviews. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called him one of the day’s big losers for what he called Glenn’s “hackneyed one-liners.”
But Glenn was there for a reason. He was one of the African-American speakers to go after Black Lives Matter, making the case, somehow, that protesting police killings is the true source of racial unrest. And he did it in a particularly cringe-worthy style, saying, “Someone with a nice tan needs to say this. All lives matter.” It got a laugh from the crowd, but not so much from the critics.
Milwaukee County Sheriff John Clark, also an African-American, has gone further, calling Black Lives Matter a hate group. And at the convention, he got a big cheer when he cited the “good news” from Baltimore that another of the police officers on trial in the death of Freddie Gray had been acquitted.
In other words, Clinton should be in jail, but not anyone involved in Freddie Gray’s death. And that’s just Day One.
Photo credit: Erik Drost, Creative Commons, Flickr
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that Paul Ryan was from Ohio. He is from Wisconsin.