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CLEVELAND – House Speaker Paul Ryan said Monday morning at a breakfast for the Pennsylvania delegation here that Republicans could not win the general election simply by bashing President Barack Obama. They must provide an alternative plan, he said, touting his policy proposals.
But that message wasn’t exactly heeded at the first night of Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention.
Well over three hours’ worth of speakers – headlining an event focused on “making America safe again” – hammered Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on all aspects of national security, sweeping the base that helped nominate the Manhattan billionaire into a fervor.
Only Trump’s wife, Melania, seemed to offer language more enticing to independents still on the fence over who to vote for this fall. But she appeared to lift parts of her address from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
As noted by The Washington Post’s James Hohmann, most of the speeches seemed better placed at the CPAC conservative conference than at the Republican National Convention, where the GOP is looking to attract votes from outside the base in hopes of propelling it over the top in November.
First up was Benghazi. A large block of time was given to veterans from the 2012 attack – Mark Geist and John Teigen – going through what transpired while Patricia Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, who was one of the four Americans killed in the attack, called for Clinton to “be in stripes.”
“Yeah, that’s right: Hillary for prison,” she said after seeing a “Hillary for Prison” sign in the front of the crowd. “She deserves to be in stripes.”
Darryl Glenn, the Republican candidate for Senate in Colorado, dropped a similar reference, noting that Clinton “loves her pantsuits,” adding: “We should send her an email and tell her that she deserves a bright orange jumpsuit.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who served in the Obama administration, echoed similar sentiment later, aimed at Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.
“Lock her up – that’s right,” he said as the crowd chanted, “Lock her up! Lock her up!”
“From this day forward, we must stand, tougher and stronger together, with an unrelenting goal to not draw red lines and then retreat … and to never be satisfied with reckless rhetoric from an Obama clone like Hillary Clinton,” Flynn said.
“Tonight, Americans stand as one … with strength and confidence to overcome the last eight years of the Obama-Clinton failures such as, 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,” he continued.
Much of the night was spent declaring that America is unsafe. Immigration, race relations, and the fight against ISIS all had a chance in the limelight.
On immigration, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, asked the whether it had had “enough” of Obama’s “reckless” policies.
“And now Hillary Clinton is promising more of the same – open borders, executive amnesty, and the surge of Syrian refugees,” he said. “This is a dangerous, liberal agenda, and it’s time for a change. It’s time to take back our country and make America safe again!”
He said that after eight years of the Obama administration, the “city on a hill,” the description of the US popularized by President Ronald Reagan, had become “a city under siege.”
“Today our allies no longer trust us, our adversaries no longer fear us, and our enemies are plotting against us,” the chairman said in an impassioned attempt to hit people’s fears. “This did not happen by accident – it happened by design.”
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke took the stage to provide the Trump campaign’s stance on police relations with minority communities, in light of the recent killings of eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which followed police-involved shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota.
“Donald Trump understands that what can make our nation safe again is a recommitment to a system of justice in which no government official, not even those who have fought their way to the marble and granite halls of Washington; no private citizen, not even Hillary Clinton; and no group of people, despite the fervor with which they press forward their grievances, can claim privilege above the law,” Clarke said. “The tradition of the primacy of the rule of law in America is strong. It is in those simple facts and in our acts that we will move forward and toward making America safe again.”
- Win McNamee/Getty Images
The loudest applause lines came during Rudy Giuliani’s speech on terrorism and policing.
Giuliani, the former New York mayor who recently referred to Black Lives Matter as a racist organization, touched on similar themes as Clarke.
“We know the risk you’re taking out there tonight protecting us – black, white, Latino,” he said of the American police. “Of every race, every color, every creed, every sexual orientation. When they come to save your life, they don’t ask if you’re black or white. They just come to save you!”
Giuliani, a 2008 Republican presidential hopeful, also sharply criticized Obama’s refusal to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” a term the Obama administration fears could create the illusion of a religious war between the West and Islam.
“For the purposes of the media, I did not say all of Islam,” Giuliani said. “I did not say most of Islam. I said Islamic extremist terrorism. You know who you are! And we’re coming to get you!”
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Trump’s first supporter in the Senate, wrapped up his speech with a succinct explanation of Trump’s core proposals.
“Donald Trump will kill Obamatrade,” he said. “Donald Trump will build the wall. Donald Trump will make America great again!”