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.
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.
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?
The broader problem, of course, extends beyond convention rhetoric. Republicans have controlled Congress for a year and a half, but they've demonstrated no real interest in economic policy. GOP lawmakers have controlled the House since early 2011, and while they've prioritized "Obamacare" repeal votes, debt-ceiling crises, and government-shutdown gambits, they haven't gotten around to creating a jobs plan.
Which is precisely what makes last night's spectacle more important than it might seem at first blush. The fact that Republicans ignored their convention theme is far less significant than the fact that Republicans no longer seem especially interested in the economy or making it better.
This may be a consequence of circumstance -- with the unemployment rate dropping from 10% to under 5% under President Obama, "Make America Work Again" was going to be a tough sell -- but for voters who still care about economic growth, the Republican Party's indifference to the issue should matter on Election Day.