It's easy to lose sight of the schedule, but the Republican National Convention has designated specific "themes" for each of the gathering's four nights. Monday, for example, was "Make America Safe Again" night, ostensibly devoted to national security and foreign policy. Last night was "Make America Work Again" night, which was supposed to mean a focus on the economy.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Cleveland.
Monday night featured all kinds of over-the-top rhetoric about Benghazi and immigrants, which was accompanied by practically nothing on international affairs. There was, for examples, no discussion of Russia, North Korea, the civil war in Syria, or the recent attempted coup in Turkey. The party's messaging included all kinds of not-so-subtle racial appeals, but effectively nothing on America's role in the world in the 21st century.
Maybe that's to be expected. The Republican Party really doesn't have much of a foreign policy anyway, so perhaps it stands to reason that the party would struggle to find a message on the convention night devoted to international affairs. Last night, however, offered the party an opportunity to share its economic message -- which as Vox's Matt Yglesias explained, also doesn't exist.
On their "Make America Work Again" evening dedicated to jobs and the economy, Republicans needed to connect with Americans' still-very-real economic pain without falling into the trap of painting an excessively dark and unrecognizable situation.
Instead of rising to that challenge, they talked about Benghazi.
On the economic troubles afflicting the American middle class, they have nothing to say.
That might seem like an exaggeration. It's not. I heard House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) make brief references to their love of tax cuts, but in general, those who tuned in to the Republican National Convention would be forgiven for having no idea it was "Make America Work Again" night.
Who cares about job creation when there are Benghazi conspiracy theories to share?
In one of the campaign season's under-appreciated truths, Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his admiration of authoritarian regimes, including Saddam Hussein's approach to due process. The Republican nominee has similarly offered praise for China's Tiananmen Square massacre, Vladimir Putin's tactics in Russia, and even Kim Jong-un's rule in North Korea.
By any fair measure, no major-party presidential nominee has ever gone quite this far in offering public praise for dictatorships, and it's one of the more unsettling elements of Trump's candidacy.
But this dynamic is made vastly more serious when the signature phrase of Trump's nominating convention is "Lock her up!" being chanted by an arena full of enraged Republicans.
The toxicity of the combination matters. As we talked about yesterday, the United States is not some banana republic, where one party vows to lock up the leaders of the other. And yet, against the backdrop of a GOP nominee who has a creepy affinity for authoritarian politics, we're witnessing a national convention in which Republicans appear eager to grab some pitchforks and make a citizens' arrest.
And as of last night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) positioned himself as the mob's ringleader. Slate's Michelle Goldberg captured the scene:
Christie began by criticizing the Obama administration for failing to hold Clinton accountable for her "dismal record" as secretary of state. "Tonight, as a former federal prosecutor, I welcome the opportunity to hold Hillary Rodham Clinton accountable for her performance and her character," said Christie. The crowd erupted in chants of "LOCK HER UP! LOCK HER UP!" while Christie smiled and nodded. "Give me a few more minutes, we'll get there," he continued. "Here's what we're going to do. We're gonna present the facts to you, you, tonight, sitting as a jury of her peers, both in this hall and in your living rooms around our nation."
A series of charges followed. Some, like Clinton's mishandling of Libya, were at least partly legitimate. Others were bizarre. At one point, Christie faulted Clinton's response to the mass kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, which happened after she left office. After each accusation, he asked, "Is she guilty or not guilty?" Each time, the crowd roared, "Guilty!"
July 19, 2016: the day the Republican National Convention became a Kangaroo Court.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but this isn't how politics is supposed to work in an advanced democracy. There's nothing in the American tradition that offers parallels to tactics like these.
Inviting Ben Carson to give a high-profile speech at the Republican National Convention may have seemed like a good idea to party officials and organizers. The retired physician may have failed badly as a presidential candidate, but he remains popular with the GOP base, and his speeches tend to be well received.
Sure, Carson has struggled badly at times as a surrogate for Donald Trump's campaign, but how bad could he be in Cleveland? After all, the party would review his prepared remarks in advance.
Of course, that only works out when Carson actually sticks to the script. Last night, he didn't.
Ben Carson went off script during his convention address Tuesday night, linking frequent conservative target Saul Alinsky -- and Lucifer -- to Hillary Clinton.
"One of the things I have learned about Hillary Clinton is that one of her heroes is Saul Alinsky," Carson said.
Alinsky has been a popular target for the right and his ideas have been tied to President Obama and Clinton. Carson said Alinsky acknowledged Lucifer in one of his books.
Straying from his prepared text, Carson posed a hypothetical question to his audience: "This is a nation where every coin in our pocket and every bill in our wallet says in 'In God We Trust.' So are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer?"
Let's put aside for now the fact that Alinsky, a '60s-era organizer, is not actually Hillary Clinton's "role model." Let's also look past the right's bizarre preoccupation with the long-deceased radical activist.
Instead let's pause to appreciate what's become of Republican politics in the 21st century. Those who tuned in to watch the Republican National Convention in prime time heard a former presidential candidate play a degrees-of-separation game connecting the Democratic nominee to Lucifer.
Senator Amy Klobuchar talks with Rachel Maddow and Brian Williams about what to expect from next week's Democratic National Convention, how it will differ from the Republican convention and why Bernie Sanders supporters should get behind Hillary Clinton. watch
Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about a new report on the genesis of Melania Trump's convention speech that seems to narrow the source of the questionable passages to Trump's inner circle. watch
Trump himself made a sharp public argument that Christie was guilty in the Bridgegate scandal: https://t.co/hYNWHKMiHS
Rachel Maddow remarks on how the New Jersey bridge investigation has burdened New Jersey governor Chris Christie politically and made him an imperfect vessel for criticism of Hillary Clinton's ethics. watch
Rachel Maddow relays reports that Roger Ailes is negotiating his departure as chairman of Fox News, noting the cataclysmic significance for the Republican Party, particularly as it comes simultaneously with Donald Trump's nomination. watch
NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell talks with the Alaska Republican delegation about the objection they've raised about how their state's votes were recorded, and Nicolle Wallace, Republican strategist, laments the RNC's disorder. watch
Rachel Maddow reports that whether counting the votes reported by the states or the votes recorded by the party, Donald Trump has cleared the threshold required to secure the Republican nomination for president. watch
this is the last moment on earth before donald trump is the nominee of a major party... for president of the united states.
Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.