The second night at the GOP convention

This article appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

If one of the pledges you have made to the American people is that you want to overcome their divisions and unite them, it is generally not a good idea to feature a speaker, Gov. Chris Christie, whose attacks on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are so nasty, the crowd erupts into a chant of "Lock her up." The same goes for trying to reach out to women. Christie's speech, like most of last night's fare, was an exercise in divisive, rhetorical hyperventilation.

The second night of "White Lives Matter" was slightly better stage-managed than the first night. A Trump surrogate told CNN that they did not want to save the best for last, but thought it important to begin the ten o’clock hour, when the networks all tune in, with their star speaker. There is, I suppose, some rationale, but I can’t believe many people stayed to listen to a soap opera actress deliver her call for trade restrictions on the importation of avocados at 10:55.

Dr. Ben Carson's prepared remarks differed slightly from what he actually said. Once at the rostrum, he added an indictment of Saul Alinsky, claimed Alinsky had a profound influence on Hillary Clinton, and that Alinsky had listed Lucifer among those acknowledged in one of his books. Get it? Hillary and Satan are in cahoots, introduced by their mutual friend Saul Alinsky. Not only is this whacky, it is so inside baseball. Writing here at NCR, I can presume that I can mention Cardinal Spellman without having to provide a brief identification of him. I can employ a Catholic-specific vocabulary without confusing the reader, no need to explain that "the Jesuits" is shorthand for the Society of Jesus, a religious order founded by Ignatius Loyola in the sixteenth century, or that the Second Vatican Council was a worldwide gathering of bishops in the early 1960s: I can just refer to the Jesuits or the Vatican II. NCR is not broadcast, it is targeted at a specific audience. Did Dr. Carson stop to think how few Americans know who Alinsky was?

The big speaker of the night was Donald Trump Jr. Some commentators thought he had the best speech of the night, with real content in his discussions of policy. I am less convinced the speech was good. Like Carson, he seemed to be talking in FoxNews code words that are opaque to a wider audience. Young Trump inveighed against "PC culture" as threatening "our children and our loved ones" but he did not say how. PC culture can be grating and obnoxious, but threatening?  Donald Jr. said Clinton had proposed to destroy Medicare. Really? Maybe among some conspiracy theorists, Clinton has the destruction of Medicare on her wish list but the people for whom Medicare is a voting issue all get newsletters from the AARP and they know that newsletter has mentioned nothing about this. The last half of his speech was this kind of collection of bumper sticker talking points for an appearance on Sean Hannity, but this wasn’t Sean Hannity, it was a chance to reach viewers on ABC and CBS and NBC too.

Then there was the soap opera actress Kimberlin Brown, famous for her appearances on "The Young and the Restless." Ms. Brown actually did a better job than most other speakers focusing on the theme of the night, how a Trump White House would create jobs. But, when she said "Seeing as we only have one life to live. I had to get that in there," I said to myself, "No you didn’t have to get it in there and there is a reason you are an actress and not a script writer." She voiced an attack on Hillary for not standing up for women when she stood up for her own marriage, but the attack was vague and amorphous, she did not mention Monica or Paula Jones, and I am not sure how many people apart from the true believers really caught it. And the bit about restricting avocado imports was just strange.

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Nothing, however, was more strange than the closing prayer. Several of the prayers this week have been atypical. Usually, a priest or a minister prays for the country and for wisdom for those gathered. This convention, the clergy are offering explicit endorsements of Trump. It is very, very creepy. But, what can beat one such creepy prayer coming from Sajid Tarar, identified as the leader of a group of American Muslims for Trump and the only Muslim leader of prayer I know who does not use the name "Allah" in his prayers. I suppose Mr. Tarar knew his audience better than he knows his Quran.

Donald Trump said he wanted his convention to be different from previous years, and he is getting his wish. Turns out when half the leaders of your party decline to attend, you end up having soap opera actresses close out your hour of prime time broadcast TV. Turns out when you seek to lead this Republican Party at this moment in time, you have a former presidential candidate speaking about Lucifer and Saul Alinsky. And, when your base is fluent in the language of conspiracy theories, receiving their nightly lessons from the crew at Fox, but the rest of us have no such fluency, it is a good idea to vet the speeches so that they are speaking to everyone and not merely to the choir. The question is: How big is his choir?


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