CLEVELAND — The first night of the 2016 Republican National Convention was purportedly about national security. In fact, it was about portraying liberalism as an ideology of national betrayal. Speaker after speaker intimated that President Obama, Hillary Clinton or both are directly responsible for a variety of American deaths because they value the lives of foreigners over those of their countrymen.
The evening took an early dip into the gutter when Republicans trotted out Patricia Smith, a grieving mother of a man who died in the Benghazi attacks, who practically accused Hillary Clinton of murdering her child. “For all of this loss, for all of this grief, for all of the cynicism the tragedy in Benghazi has wrought upon America, I blame Hillary Clinton,” she said. “I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son.” Multiple investigations suggest different conclusions, but few of the presentations Monday night were substantive. The fact that Smith seemed to be on the verge of tears conveyed the desired pathos. Her grief-stricken anger is understandable. Republicans’ decision to exploit her grief to execute a cheap attack on Clinton is not. Yet Smith turned out to be just the first in a series of victims willing to blame their tragedies on Clinton.
Next came Mark Geist and John Tiegen, members of the Benghazi security team. They claimed, at a partisan political convention, that the Benghazi tale is not “about politics,” before insisting that, “had [Clinton] done her job that night . . . Ty, Glen, Sean, and Ambassador Stevens would be alive today.”
Then came Mary Mendoza, another grieving mother, who said that her son was killed by an illegal immigrant driving while drunk and high on methamphetamine. “It’s time that we have an administration that cares more about Americans than illegals,” she proclaimed. “A vote for Hillary is putting all of our children’s lives at risk.”
In case you thought that Republicans were merely accusing Obama and Clinton of incompetence, Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Tex.) encouraged the audience to see national tragedies as at least partially intentional. “Today, our allies no longer trust us, our adversaries no longer fear us and our enemies are plotting against us. This did not happen by accident. It happened by design,” he said. “It is the work of Barack Obama and the architect of his failed foreign policy, Hillary Clinton.” He explained: “Instead of protecting Americans, the Obama administration turned a blind eye to the danger.”
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn later followed this up by lambasting Obama and Clinton’s “bumbling indecisiveness, willful ignorance and total incompetence that has challenged the very heart and soul of every American and single-handedly brought continued mayhem, murder and destruction into our neighborhoods and onto the world’s streets” [emphasis mine]. “I shudder to think of how many times our flags will fly at half mast” if Clinton becomes president Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) said near the end of the night.
Why would Obama and Clinton abdicate their responsibilities? The 2016 GOP platform offers an answer: “The leadership of the Democratic Party, both those in office and those who seek it, no longer see America as a force for good in the world.”
None of the speakers discussed Trump much, save for his wife, Melania, who — besides apparently plagiarizing Michelle Obama — said that her husband is a warm man who respects minority groups, but offered no examples of Trump’s well-hidden virtues.
Yet, in a way, the GOP’s Monday night anti-Democrat diatribe was about Trump. If, as Trump and his allies allege, the country is in a poor state because of the perfidy of those running it, he does not have to cite real facts or provide substantive details about how he would fix the nation’s problems. Instead, all he needs to do is promise not to betray the country. Demonizing one’s political enemies is toxic for the nation’s democratic institutions and political culture, but that didn’t seem to bother the crowd much. Other than “U-S-A, U-S-A,” one of the most common chants from the floor Monday night was, “Lock her up! Lock her up!”