The Republican National Convention hit Ohio this week, with Donald Trump officially taking his place as the party’s nominee for president. One notable characteristic of the gathering: Anger.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie helped lead cheers of, “Lock her up,” in a speech describing the supposed crimes of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. And Tuesday night - supposedly devoted to the economy - was instead devoted to a line of speakers listing non-economic grievances against Clinton.
Are Republicans particularly angry? Why? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
You know who I miss? George W. Bush.
Yeah, that’s kind of crazy. Bush - I’ve argued - was probably the worst president in living memory. He started a disastrous, unnecessary war in Iraq. He authorized torture. He led the nation when the economy collapsed into the Great Recession. He ran a 2004 campaign based on denying gay Americans the right to marriage. And he probably could’ve been a bit more proactive in preventing the attacks of 9/11.
Bush was just a disaster. But he’s still preferable to what we’ve seen on stage at the Republican National Convention this week.
Bush, for all his many faults, seemed to possess a bit of human decency that’s pretty much missing from the GOP’s incarnation under Trump. Bush, after all, tried to figure out a way to resolve the immigration issue sensibly - knowing that any realistic solution won’t involve the deportation of millions of migrants living here already. Bush, after all, tried to expand the GOP appeal beyond its base of old white people, appealing to Hispanics and openly breaking with the racist “Southern strategy” used by earlier generations of Republican politicians. Bush, after all, was the force behind U.S. aid to Africa to help stem the tide of AIDS there.
The GOP under Trump, though, doesn’t much like immigrants. It has open antipathy toward the Black Lives Matter movement. And where the conventions under Bush seemed to be of the “happy warrior” stripe - remember Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2004 appearance in New York? - this convention has been sour and cranky.
This is no surprise. Republican voters have been primed for decades by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and websites like Breitbart, all of which are mad as hell and not taking it anymore, good times or bad. Trump is the perfect candidate for such voters. Given his general ideological incoherence - his position on key issues is often slippery at best - it’s natural to assume that anger is pretty much the main feature unifying what’s left of the Republican Party these days.
It’s enough to make you miss Bush.
If your political party just nominated Trump, wouldn’t you be angry, too? Anger follows denial in the five stages of grief, after all.
Too many Republicans simply refused to believe that Trump would be the party’s standard-bearer. As recently as Monday, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, the man who had stepped up to lead the doomed Never Trump insurgency, was pleading on Twitter for somebody like failed 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to announce an 11th-hour independent bid in hopes of derailing the Trump train.
It’s sad to see wishful thinking replace prudence. Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible.
For example, it’s possible that the anger we’ve been hearing from the dais at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland is serving a larger political purpose. What were Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani shouting about, anyway? Ron Fournier writing at The Atlantic on Wednesday argued that Republicans aren’t using the convention to make the case for Trump so much as they’re making the case against Clinton.
Christie’s, “Lock her up,” refrain wasn’t intended to make listeners pause and reflect, any more than Giuliani’s passionate defense of the police on Monday night was about anything Trump will do if he’s elected. The point is to sow the seeds of doubt.
Because, apart from being widely disliked and distrusted by many voters, Clinton almost certainly mishandled classified information in violation of federal law. She’s utterly in thrall of the Black Lives Matter movement, which until about a week ago had no problem with its speakers advocating violence against police. And the FBI is still looking into the activities of her family’s foundation, especially its foreign donors.
Republicans might well be angry that they’re facing an uphill fight against a crooked Democrat.
Republicans’ anger this week seems to be about squandered opportunities. After eight years of inept administration, diplomatic embarrassment abroad and middling economic growth at home, the GOP should have been able to beat any candidate the Democrats put up. The fact that Trump was the best the Party of Lincoln could muster with this year is sad and infuriating.
Ben Boychuk (email@example.com) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine.