Hillary Clinton steals the show at Republican convention

Directing vitriol at Democratic nominee proves a rallying sport for Republicans

Michigan delegate Wes Nakagiri wears a Hillary Clinton mask, and handcuffs, before the start of the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Michigan delegate Wes Nakagiri wears a Hillary Clinton mask, and handcuffs, before the start of the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

 

In Cleveland, she was not so much the ghost at the feast as the guest of honour.

On the streets near the convention centre, vendors doled out T-shirts that read “Hillary Clinton for Prison 2016” and badges that read “Life’s a bitch. Don’t vote for one.”

In the arena, her name elicited a louder and more impassioned response from the audience’s than Donald Trump’s, with jeers and boos echoing around the stadium.

While the Republican National Convention was billed as Trump’s show, in some ways the convention was overshadowed by his Democratic opponent, who served as a unifying force for party members, particularly those with reservations about Trump.

Night after night, convention speakers called for Clinton to be put in prison. New Jersey governor Chris Christie led a mock prosecution of Clinton from the stage, with delegates breaking into chants of “Lock her up!” – a motto that after this week has become something of an unofficial campaign slogan.

“This is not one politician versus another politician. This is someone who broke the law repeatedly, who think the laws don’t apply to her,” said Doug Hunt, a construction materials boss from New Jersey who wore a fist-sized “Hillary for Prison” button on his polo shirt.

He noted approvingly that Christie, through his “Guilty or not Guilty” soliloquy on Clinton, had thrown the crowd what it wanted: “red meat”. “She’s a criminal and should be in jail,” he said, referring to Clinton. “No value, no integrity, no honour.”

Helping the process

Virginia

On stage, Ben Carson, the 2016 presidential contender, linked Clinton to Satan through her association with Saul Alinsky, a community leader and writer who acknowledged Lucifer in his book Rules for Radicals.

Sharon Day, co-chair of the Republican National Committee declared that Clinton had “viciously attacked the character of women who were sexually abused at the hands of [her] husband”. In a radio interview, a Trump delegate proposed that Clinton should be “shot for treason”.

On Thursday night, Wes Nakagiri, a Michigan engineer, came to the arena wearing a Hillary mask, handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit emblazoned with the words “Hillary: serial killer”. “I wanted to make a point,” he explained.

During the first three days of the convention, Clinton’s name was mentioned more than 135 times by the event’s prime time speakers – or nearly twice the number of times that Trump’s own name was mentioned.

For the party leadership, the focus on Clinton presented an easy solution for rallying the party behind its most controversial candidate in recent history. For Trump, the motif was a way to crystallise his candidacy in the starkest and most binary terms. Clinton would bring four more years of “death, destruction, terrorism”, and a continuation of political and capitalist cronyism, Trump warned. “She is [the corporate and media interests’] puppet, and they hold the strings.”

Nationally Clinton has a disapproval rating of 55.9 per cent, according to an average of Real Clear Politics poll. Trump’s disapproval rating is 59.1 per cent.

Taken aback

Cory Booker

Some Democrats said they hoped the increasingly vitriolic attacks on Clinton would backfire, creating a negative tone to the campaign, and alienating the more centrist and moderate voters.

“The harshness and over-the-top negativity of the Republican convention might rally Trump’s base, but it will alienate the rest of the electorate,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who works with Priorities USA, a pro-Clinton super-PAC.

On the Republican side, however, many praised the tactic as successful, noting the extent to which the party’s base had appeared to rally behind Trump by the end his prime time public address.

Personally blaming Hillary for events such as the attack on Benghazi had been “crass at times”, a Republican Party staffer admitted. However, it would be “undoubtedly effective in the fall,’” he added.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016

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