The Republican Circus, on Stage and Off
The spotlight on the third night of the Republican convention was supposed to be on the vice-presidential nominee. And, as expected, Mike Pence showed himself to be a perfectly solid running mate for any Republican Party that wanted a solid movement conservative on the ticket.
He gave a perfectly solid speech, hitting all the perfectly solid conservative notes. Nothing too scary for those swing voters scared of ideologues; nothing scarily moderate for True Conservatives.
He did not get the overwhelmingly positive reaction inside the hall that Sarah Palin received eight years ago, or even, I recall, as much love as Paul Ryan got in 2012. But the Indiana governor did well.
It hardly mattered. He could not compete with the spectacle around him. As soon as he started attacking Hillary Clinton, the crowd broke out into its chorus of "Lock Her Up." This was the third night of this refrain, and it is getting uglier and more thuggish as the convention goes along.
The convention was still aboil after Ted Cruz's defiant speech and confrontation with angry Trump delegates earlier in the evening.
And to top it off, as Pence was speaking, news broke about an interview Donald Trump gave to the New York Times on foreign policy. Yes, it had the kind of bombshell we've come to expect from him when he speaks on this subject. Trump, to quote the Times story, "even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back." In fact, according to the Times article, he specifically refused to say he would back the Baltic states if they were invaded.
All of this broke over Twitter just around the point where Pence was assuring the convention that Trump would stand with U.S. allies while the Democrats would not -- a talking point for several convention speakers, as well as the assertion that Democrats were retreating from America's commitments to the world.
While Pence spoke, Trump-Pence signs appeared on the convention floor, the ones with the running mate's name in smaller type. But there were no banners unfurled with Pence's name on them, at least that I saw watching on television, or any other indication that this was supposed to be the second-most important speech of the week. He was not introduced by a film, as Ryan was four years ago.
Trump did come out and congratulate Pence at the end, as has been standard practice in recent conventions. But there was nothing to indicate that Trump was especially proud to have as a running mate a conservative whose readiness for the job no one has seriously questioned and who fits well with an idiosyncratic presidential nominee who purports to want to unite his party.
The problem seems to be that Trump doesn't want to unite his party. He wants to bully it into submission. As Ted Cruz's performance showed, the Texas senator yields to no one in the bullying department.
Maybe Trump just doesn't know what he's doing. Either way, Pence was just wallpaper on his big night.
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