Critic's Notebook: Chris Christie Whips Crowd Into Hillary-Hating Frenzy at GOP Convention

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Chris Christie

Donald Trump Jr., Tiffany Trump, a vitriolic Chris Christie and a God's-wrath-fearing Ben Carson were among the speakers at the convention's second night.

For the GOP faithful, the most electrifying speech at Tuesday's night's Republican National Convention in Cleveland was delivered by Donald Trump Jr., who offered up an impassioned paean to his father and conservative principles.

So why was he followed — in primetime, no less — by the likes of Ben Carson and soap opera actress Kimberlin Brown?

Forget running the government. The GOP has a lot to learn about running a televised convention, as indicated by the scheduling chaos that's afflicted the event so far. In another example of bizarre slotting, Tiffany Trump, Donald's 22-year-old daughter, who spoke lovingly of her father's tender side, had to follow Chris Christie, who used his time at the podium to essentially transform the thousands of people in Quicken Loans Arena into the world's largest lynch mob.

Yes, it was that kind of evening. The theme was "Make America Work Again," but it might as well have been "Make Hillary Unemployed."

No major speakers appeared onstage until 8:30 p.m. ET, with the schedule delayed by rule snafus. Paul Ryan finally appeared onstage to officially announce that Trump had won the nomination, somehow managing to do so without gagging, although he might have thrown up a little inside his mouth.

Then we heard from the likes of Dana White, who, as the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, is clearly qualified to talk about today's politics. He was followed by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who flaunted her Southern accent and declared herself to be a "Christian, pro-life, gun-carrying Arkansas woman," which may be the least appealing online dating profile ever; and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, not mentioning Trump's name once (he actually opposed Trump's candidacy) but making a strong case about Hillary's misdeeds, a theme that would dominate the evening.

Chris Cox, the chief lobbyist of the NRA, delivered the organization's usual nightmare scenario of a vulnerable woman home alone with her infant child who finds herself the victim of an armed intruder. It makes you wonder if the leaders of the group, which he coyly described as "the largest and oldest civil rights organization in America," lull their children to sleep by reading aloud to them from In Cold Blood.

Pro golfer Natalie Gulbis, who once appeared on Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, delivered a heartfelt appreciation of the Republican nominee. But her current ranking in the sport is No. 492, which makes you wonder if there are 491 female golfers who prefer Clinton.

She was followed by Trump himself, or at least his video image beamed from Trump Tower as if he was the Wizard of Oz. Presidential candidates normally avoid appearing at the convention until the final night, the better to build up anticipation, but not Trump, who had already broken with tradition by appearing the previous night. He thanked the crowd for the nomination by assuring them it was "something I will never, ever forget" (neither will we, Donald … neither will we).

Then came the "10 Freshman Senators" (and Mitch McConnell, standing out like a sore thumb), who seemed to be auditioning for a national tour as the least hip singing group ever. Their spokesman was Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, who pointed out that one of them was a hog farmer (apparently it's a selling point). "In 2014, you made this happen!" he informed the crowd, which sounded less like an expression of gratitude than an accusation.

Ryan, who didn't actually endorse Trump until last month, used his time not to make a case for the nominee but rather to sell his own brand of conservative principles, which in many instances differ from Trump's. He put a positive spin on the GOP's internal struggles by labeling them "signs of life," which is certainly true if you hold the view that the party is on life support. Ryan decried the possibility of "a third Obama term brought to you by a Clinton," conveniently ignoring that the president is currently enjoying higher poll ratings than either candidate. He predicted that the upcoming Democratic convention would be a "four-day political infomercial of politically correct moralizing," which, compared to the hatefest going on this week, actually sounds pretty good. And Ryan delivered his usual bromides about how the best way to take care of people is to let them fend for themselves, making you wonder if he teaches children how to swim by throwing them into the deep end of the pool.

Assuming the attack-dog position held the previous night by Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie delivered a full-bore indictment of Clinton, reminding everyone that as a politician he makes a great prosecutor. Reciting her full name as it would appear on a legal document, he transformed the arena into a courtroom, whipping the audience into such a frenzy with his litany of accusations that they actually began chanting "Lock her up! Lock her up!" He detailed her alleged foreign policy missteps, going from country to country around the globe.

"Let's go to Syria!" Christie announced at one point, sounding like the world's worst travel agent.

He continually baited the crowd by asking "Guilty or not guilty?," a question that may soon arise about himself in his home state. When he looked directly at the camera and announced that he wanted to talk to "the viewers at home, in their living rooms," the vibration you felt was the nation collectively shuddering. He finished by exhorting the crowd to prevent Clinton not just from winning the presidency, but from "getting within 10 miles of the White House ever again," which just seems like overkill. For someone who's so well fed, Christie's a very angry man.

Just as the audience was recovering from their collective hysteria, they suffered emotional whiplash with the appearance of Tiffany Trump, who claimed she was nervous but seemed totally poised as she delivered a touching account of her father's personal side, including the revelation that he used to write sweet notes to her on her report cards. But for all her loyalty, it was a little hard to believe her description of Trump as a "natural-born encourager" when the phrase he's best known for is "You're fired!"

She was followed by Donald Trump Jr., living proof of his father's love for putting his own name on things. Taking a brief respite from killing wild animals, the father of five children (born in a period of seven years) demonstrated that the excessive testosterone level doesn't fall far from the tree. He described his dad as a simple "boy from Queens" — as if he had been born on the other side of the tracks, not to a rich real-estate developer — and cited as evidence of his father's essential goodness that he taught his young granddaughter how to swing a golf club, something to which all Americans can surely relate.

He and his father are just regular Joes, Donald Trump Jr. seemed to be saying, as comfortable pouring concrete at a construction site or riding a Caterpillar as hanging out at Trump Tower. Having fought and clawed his way to a leading position in his father's business (he is executive vp at the Trump Organization), he can obviously identify with the struggles of the working class. But his undeniably forceful speech stirred the crowd up, so much so that you wonder why his father hadn't followed his usual instincts and simply given his son the VP slot.

It was, sadly, all downhill from there, with Carson, looking more animated than he did in any of the debates (admittedly, he's had ample time to rest up), delivering a bizarre speech attacking Clinton, pointedly mentioning that her mentor, community organizer Saul Alinsky, gave a shout-out to Lucifer in one of his books. Condemning the "secular progressives" ruining the country, Carson promised that if we didn't elect Donald Trump we would all "suffer God's wrath," which under the circumstances actually felt like one of the more feel-good lines of the night.

Watch a clip of the speeches below.

comments powered by Disqus