NOTE: These observations are based on my impressions from being inside Quicken Loans Arena, not from watching on television.
CLEVELAND — Make America Safe Again was the theme for the opening night, a sound choice turned extra poignant and jangly by the assassinations of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Campaign disorganization and party divisions vitiated much of the show.
Speaker of the night honors go to former NYC Mayor and presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani. He read the prevailing sentiment of the crowd, enormous compassion for police, and his plaudits to Cleveland’s finest brought a roar of approval that elevated the passion level in the arena. He worked that well, yelling at times but in pitch with the crowd. Giuliani also delivered the night’s most specific and effective personal testimony about Donald Trump’s character. And he turned Obama’s classic line about red and blue America against him.
His wife’s testimony, in contrast, was abstract, anecdote-free when a glimpse of their lives behind the gilded curtain would have met or exceeded audience wishes. Melania Trump’s speech also struck the wrong theme; it was a success story more appropriate for night two (“Make America Work Again”).
We learned overnight that passages from the speech track word for word with Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech. While embarrassing to the point of shamelessness, it would actually not be that much of a problem as far as voters are concerned; cut-and-paste plagiarism happens, and no one would hold it against Melania as a non-candidate and novice public speaker. The problem here is that campaign manager Paul Manafort and others, including Melania, have been denying what is obvious from the evidence ever since. It’s a mistake compounded into a reality-denying posture, an aggressive tactical response more appropriate to the authoritarian regimes where Manafort works most of the time.
Several speakers called for Hillary Clinton to go to prison; the arena crowd chanted “lock her up” at one point. Two speakers at least (I lost count) used the phrase “blue lives matter;” it may go viral (not yet, it hasn’t) but it takes a unifying point that could win new supporters (as made by Giuliani) and deploys it instead as a divisive point that mobilizes #blacklivesmatter sympathizers as well as its opponents. Other speakers told war stories designed to prosecute a political if not legal and constitutional case against Clinton; the most effective, in my opinion, was delivered by relatives of a victim of the “Fast and Furious” rogue operation by remote camera live from the US-Mexico border. Opening up the show like that strikes me as a technique worth repeating and refining.