The Republican National Convention was half an hour old. Emotions were running high. "Lone Survivor" author Marcus Luttrell got a standing ovation and delivered a passionate speech, and now Pat Smith, the mother of one of the four Americans killed in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, was on stage to talk about Hillary Clinton.
Expect to see these quotes in a campaign ad near you:
"I blame Hillary Clinton. I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son -- personally."
“Sean is my son. Hillary Clinton is a woman, a mother and a grandmother of two. I am a woman, a mother and a grandmother of two. How could she do this to me? How could she do this to any American family?"
“If Hillary Clinton can’t give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency? That’s right: Hillary in prison. She deserves to be in stripes.”
None of these comments from Smith are surprising. During occasional interviews on cable TV news, she has said that Clinton lied to her and blamed President Obama for her son Sean's death in Benghazi. She has also said her son warned her on the eve of his death that security was insufficient at the U.S. compound in Benghazi -- an allegation that has been the subject of investigations and congressional hearings.
But this was a whole new stage. And Smith had the audience rapt. Cameras cutting to delegates on the floor found plenty wiping away tears or on the verge of crying.
The decision to start the convention with Smith was clearly a calculated one. At a convention in which the story line could very much be about how Republicans aren't united behind Donald Trump, the big early moment was all about Clinton.
Smith hasn't had that kind of audience before, and some in the media were quick to differ with her account of her son's death. NBC's Richard Engel, for instance, offered this:
To hear this grieving mother -- and you could only sympathize with her grief -- to lay the blame directly at Hillary Clinton, saying that Hillary was responsible for her son's death -- personally responsible -- it doesn't correspond with the facts as I know them and as I've read them in subsequent investigations. And it does seem to be a manipulation of someone's grief and going to a very dark place.
As our own Fact Checker has written, other family members of those killed in Benghazi have disagreed with Smith's account that Clinton, in her conversations with them, blamed the attack on an anti-Islam video:
None of the other family members who agreed to be interviewed said Clinton made any reference to a video. Indeed, other family members have been puzzled by the confident assertions of [Charles] Woods [the father of former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods] and Smith.
“It was absolutely never mentioned, and it is totally new to me,” said Jan Stevens, the father of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. “She gave us her sympathy. We had a great deal of talk about the problems of the world, the college her daughter attended. It was very small talk, nothing substantive.”
Barbara Doherty, the mother of Glen Doherty, recalled that Clinton “was very sincere; I remember her crying.” Clinton spoke to family members individually, she said. “She had just come back from Africa and talked about the women there and the conditions they were under,” Doherty said. “It was not political at all. That would have been totally inappropriate. That did not happen.” (Clinton had spent 11 days in Africa just four weeks before the attacks.)
As Engel notes, though, Smith is in a unique position to go after Clinton, and the delegates' reaction to her speech Monday night showed the potential they have for being used against Clinton and getting Republicans motivated. Engel suggests that she is being manipulated, but questioning her emotional account is a tricky thing to do -- both for the media and for the Clinton campaign.
In a campaign that promises to get very negative very quickly, it was perhaps a fitting way to start the convention season.