CLEVELAND — I get why Republicans are so determined to savage Hillary Clinton, to paint her as the apotheosis of evil. They’re not united in love for Donald Trump, but they do bond over their hatred of Clinton. And since Trump’s low favorability numbers aren’t guaranteed to go up, their best bet is to drive hers further down.
And who better to take on that task than Chris Christie, who, despite his string of Trump-induced humiliations, is still capable of TALKING AT THIS DECIBEL LEVEL FOR 15 MINUTES STRAIGHT.
It was one of last night’s highlights, perhaps a last hurrah for the GOP’s 2011 golden boy, and he got everybody howling for blood. It was “The Hunger Games” meets the Salem witch trials, with a dash of Orwell’s Two-Minute Hate. And it was totally in tune with the overall convention vibe, which is that Hillary is guilty of just about everything; Heck, campaign chief Paul Manafort even insisted yesterday, hilariously so, that the flap over Melania Trump’s plagiarism was really Hillary’s fault (“When Hillary Clinton is threatened by a female, the first thing she does is try to destroy that person”).
Of course, it can be argued that Christie wasn’t necessarily the best guy to orchestrate chants of “Lock Her Up!” given the fact that his Bridgegate scandal cloud continues to hover, that the trial of his top confederates is set for September, that he might be called as a witness, that his own personal email account (on which he conducted business) was hidden from investigators, and that potentially key texts sent and received during the Bridgegate coverup were erased from a cell phone that Christie gave to his personal attorney. Plus, there was this summary verdict on Christie last winter: “He knew about it. He totally knew about it.” So said Donald Trump.
And it can also be argued that Christie played it fast and loose last night, like when he bellowed that Clinton was essentially responsible for 400,000 dead people: “In Syria, imagine this, imagine this. [Clinton] called President Assad a ‘reformer.’ She called Assad a ‘different kind of leader.’ There’s now 400,000 now dead … at the hands of a man that Hillary defended.” But Christie misquoted her — years ago, Clinton said that some members of Congress had viewed him as a potential reformer — and he omitted the fact that Clinton had called for Assad’s ouster as far back as the spring of 2012.
But such nuances have no place in political theatre. (Fact-free Ben Carson insisted later in the evening that Clinton has ties to “Lucifer.”) And ginning up the convention hall partisans is a time-honored American tradition. And it was arguably smart politics in this case, because Hillary’s trust numbers are in the toilet, especially on her use of private email. One national poll, two weeks ago, said that 56 percent of Americans disagreed with the FBI’s decision not to recommend an indictment.
On the other hand, according to that same ABC News-Washington Post poll, 58 percent of Americans said the email issue would not influence their voting decision. So the Trump Convention is clearly running the risk of overplaying their Hillary hatred. Especially since last night’s theme was supposed to be about job creation — you know, the stuff that a party is for, rather than simply who the party is against. But alas, there was barely a nod to the night’s chosen message, Make America Work Again. Republican commentator Rich Galen says it best: “Where were the ‘jobs’ speeches last night? Only if more prison guards is a central point of the campaign.”
In fact, has anyone actually heard any policy specifics? We’ve basically had two nights of memes, buzz phrases, and abuse. How, exactly, would Trump bring back the jobs that have gone overseas? And would he use the federal government to create jobs, and, if so, how would he fund them, and, if so, would he raise taxes to pay for the jobs plan or cut other federal outlays instead? Not a word on any of that. All I heard last night about jobs was Donald Jr.’s claim that his dad loves to hang with the blue-collar workers on his job sites.
Instead, we got Christie cheerleading “Lock her up” chants, and TV images of wild-eyed delegates crossing their wrists to mimic the locking of handcuffs. That kind of stuff plays well with true-believers on the floor, but there is much evidence, in the research over the years, that negative messages can backfire if pushed too hard. Especially when the messenging campaign is short on policy or tonal positives.
Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said last night, “‘Lock her up’ seems too banana-republic to me. In this country we don’t ‘lock up’ our political opponents …. The chant does not help the cause.” Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who refused to attend his own party’s convention, said from afar, “Hillary Clinton now belongs in prison? C’mon. We can make the case that she shouldn’t be elected without jumping the shark.” Conservative columnist Ross Douthat framed the big picture: “Every major figure who participated in [Tuesday’s] grotesquerie has disgraced themselves on a level unique in the history of the republic.”
Which prompts me to wonder: Can Chris Christie, with his 26 percent Jersey approval and his third-banana Trumpworld status, even be considered a major figure anymore?