The Republican convention kicked off not with a celebration of Donald Trump’s ascendency nor with a hopeful vision to quell the country’s growing unrest. Instead, the first night of the Republican convention painted a bleak picture of a country on edge, under threat from enemies both foreign and domestic, and with the specter of violence never far from the surface.
“There’s no next election. This is it. There’s no more time for us left to revive our great country,” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said in his slashing speech to the convention. “No more time to repeat our mistakes of the Clinton/Obama years. Washington needs a complete turnaround, and Donald Trump is the agent of change, and he will be the leader of the change we need!”
Monday night’s rhetoric fit right in with the controversial candidacy Trump had been mounting for months.
“I think that does play to Trump’s advantage. Nobody is interested in a lot of nuance when they’re worried about a bomb blowing up at their shopping center,” said former Rep. Vin Weber (R-MN) in an interview with TPM. “He has projected since day one kind of this broad image of strength. Not very concrete, not very specific, but a strong guy. That’s what scares me about him, too. I don’t want an authoritarian figure as president, but that will appeal to people in an insecure environment.”
The theme of the night was “Make America Safe Again,” and the programming touched on many of the threats Republicans say befell the nation during President Obama’s administration, problems they say would only grow if Clinton is allowed to succeed him.
“President Reagan once asked if you are better off than you were four years ago. Tonight, let me ask you this question. Are you safer than you were eight years ago?” said the House’s Homeland Security Chair Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) in his remarks.
The first portion of the evening was a visceral recounting of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, during which accusations were lobbed that Clinton was not only asleep at the wheel during the tragedy, but that she lied to the faces of the victims’ families.
“I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son. Personally,” said Pat Smith, the mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith.
Benghazi was just the beginning. The evening dovetailed a host of threats coming from both abroad and within the country’s own borders.
“My generation, the next generation, this is for you. Your war is here,” said former Navy SEAL and “Lone Survivor” co-author Marcus Luttrell in his remarks.
“You don’t have to go searching for it. Your people are afraid,” he said.
But foreign enemies were just one threat Republicans sought to highlight. Undocumented immigrants were also portrayed as a major menace to U.S. security. Back to back, victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants spoke, a reflection of Trump’s campaign message from day one.
“This is the story that people need to understand, which is that ‘illegal immigration’ is not a just a passing term. These people are directly impacted every day, and they lost their families,” former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told TPM on the convention floor during that section of speeches.
The night’s other prevailing theme — besides America is going to hell — is that Hillary Clinton is going to prison.
“Hillary Clinton is unfit to be president. We all know she loves her pantsuits. Yes, you know what’s coming. We should send her an e-mail and tell her she deserves a bright orange jumpsuit,” said Colorado Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, merging two of the GOP’s favorite Hillary memes into one.
Later in the night the convention crowd broke out into chants of “lock her up.”
The rhetoric provided a theme around which the fractured Republican Party could rally. They may not all see Trump as their white knight, but they were united in fear about the state of the world and the country.
“The 2016 campaign is about our problems not about our potential. It’s kind of bleak,” Republican strategist Ed Rogers told TPM.
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) said that the theme of the evening was just the truth.
“If Barack Obama had done a good job, it wouldn’t be a very dark story,” said Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) in an interview with TPM. “He’s been such a failure that the security story is a big one because the world is on fire.”
And the link to Clinton was obvious.
“I think we have to put the mark on Hillary,” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told TPM. “I think we have to do that, and you don’t do that with happy face and cheers.”