At any major party’s national convention, partisans aren’t going to use kid gloves when going after the other party’s nominee. It stands to reason that when Republicans target Hillary Clinton in Cleveland this week, they’re going to use every possible line of attack they can think of. It’s just how the game is played.
But Vox’s Andrew Prokop picked up on GOP messaging from the first night of the Republican National Convention that goes much further than anything Americans are accustomed to.
One of the most striking recurring suggestions of the Republican convention’s first day was that Hillary Clinton should be sent to prison.During retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s speech, the delegates began to chant, “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” Soon, Flynn agreed, saying, “Lock her up, that’s right! It’s unbelievable!”
After noting some other speakers who called for Clinton’s imprisonment, Prokop’s piece added, “To me, all this seemed like a new crossing of a line and an ugly degradation of a norm in American politics.”
He’s not the only who thought so. Independent Journal Review’s Justin Green, a conservative journalist, added, “Plagiarism is bad, but it’s remarkable that the headline news today isn’t that speakers at the RNC called for jailing the opposing nominee.”
It’s no small detail. In the American tradition, partisans will blast rivals on every front, but voters are not accustomed to hearing calls for the incarceration of the other party’s presidential candidate.
This year, in other words, radicalized Republicans are breaking new ground in ways the American mainstream should find alarming.
Obviously, factual details aren’t especially relevant to those pushing this line of attack, but what’s especially striking about last night’s excesses is the degree to which they were ridiculous. If Democrats were nominating a scandal-plagued criminal, the “Lock her up!” chants might at least be coherent.
But the FBI found that Hillary Clinton couldn’t be successfully prosecuted for any crime. Investigators gave her email server protocols a close look and determined there was nothing to prosecute. The Benghazi conspiracy theories were discredited. So were the Whitewater accusations. Clinton’s critics have plenty of allegations, but they’ve producing nothing in the way of proof of wrongdoing.
Which makes this all the more bizarre. The United States is not some banana republic, where one party vows to lock up the leaders of the other. The rabid GOP base may see Clinton – and President Obama, and Democrats in general – as worthy of prosecution, and Republican officials have pandered to these extremists for years, peddling nonsense that activists ingest with glee.
But it’s one of the reasons the party ended up with Donald Trump as its presumptive nominee, suggesting the party may at least want to consider a more responsible course.