CLEVELAND — The tone set with several speeches in the first days of the Republican National Convention to nominate Donald Trump for president has been grim and accusatory, painting the country as a dystopia under President Barack Obama that would worsen under Hillary Clinton.
Rhetoric condemning Clinton has overwhelmed that praising Trump. And demands that the former secretary of state be jailed for a laundry list of transgressions have fired up the GOP crowd at Quicken Loans Arena.
On Monday night, the mother of Sean Smith, an American killed in the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, attacks, with anguish in her face held Clinton responsible for the death of her son.
“How could she do this to me?” Patricia Smith said, later agreeing with someone in the crowd, “She deserves to be in stripes.”
Smith was only one of several speakers that night who had firsthand experience with loss and blamed Democratic policies.
On Tuesday came a fiery charge-by-charge “indictment” of the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said Clinton’s “flawed judgment” in several international missions has resulted in deaths and fueled terrorism.
His “guilty or not guilty” call-and-response speech energized the crowd of Republican delegates, who chanted, “Lock her up!”
In a fundraising email, the Clinton campaign likened the speech to a “witch trial.”
Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz at a Wednesday news conference here in Cleveland criticized Christie’s address as a “fact checker’s dream” and said charges leveled against Clinton are vicious lies.
“This convention puts on full display exactly who the Republican Party is,” she said. “They’re about venom, vitriol, divisiveness, bigotry, hatred.”
Jerry Miller, an Ohio University political communications professor, said that recent deadly shootings and other attacks in the United States and abroad have fed the fervor as Trump rises.
“It has been somewhat a gloom-and-doom campaign,” he said in an interview. “But it’s not uncommon — especially in an open campaign such as this — for the party that’s been out of the White House to create a negative impression of the status quo.”
Miller said Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, must respond to the anxieties about national security and economic uncertainty with sound and detailed policy pitches in order to hook people beyond the Cleveland convention: moderate and swing voters.
“If he’s successful in both placing the blame and providing a legitimate alternative response, then I think the appeal will be broader,” Miller said.
Daniel Birdsong, a University of Dayton (Ohio) political science lecturer, said liberals may see the convention’s messaging as misplaced blame and anger, but conservatives see it as a call to return order and security.
“They’re making a change argument, but it’s a change argument that has tradition as its backbone,” Birdsong said in an interview. “ ‘Make American Great Again’ is a nostalgic kind of phrase.”
John Jay LaValle, the Suffolk County Republican Committee chairman and a delegate for Trump, told Newsday that he doesn’t see the convention speakers’ message as overly cynical.
“I understand how someone would take that perspective, but what I invite people to think is that it’s about injecting reality into what’s going on in America,” he said.
With Michael Gormley