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Republicans Slam Clinton, But Don’t Make the Case for Trump

It was supposed to be a night to “make America safe again,” but as usual the candidate’s need for attention stepped on the GOP message.

CLEV­E­LAND—When Pat Smith offered emo­tion­al testi­mony about how the gov­ern­ment failed to pro­tect her son dur­ing the Benghazi at­tacks, Don­ald Trump was call­ing in­to Bill O’Re­illy’s Fox News show to pre­view his speech at the con­ven­tion. As Smith power­fully re­coun­ted Hil­lary Clin­ton’s un­re­spons­ive­ness to her fam­ily’s plight, Trump at­tacked John Kasich, Ohio’s GOP gov­ernor host­ing the con­ven­tion in ab­sen­tia.

This was “make Amer­ica safe again” night at the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion. But just as Trump has re­fused to cede con­trol of his scat­ter­shot pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, his con­stant need for at­ten­tion over­shad­owed some of the most com­pel­ling pro­gram­ming at his own con­ven­tion. While the pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee tra­di­tion­ally ap­pears on the fi­nal night, Trump briefly emerged to­night to roar­ing ap­plause to in­tro­duce his wife, Melania.

The con­ven­tion’s sched­ule fo­cused on Benghazi, il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion, na­tion­al se­cur­ity, and in­dict­ments of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s for­eign policy. “Are you safer than you were eight years ago? Is our mil­it­ary stronger? Is Amer­ica still re­spec­ted?” House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee Chair Mi­chael Mc­Caul said. In a well-re­ceived speech, Mil­wau­kee County Sher­iff Dav­id Clarke in­toned: “We simply can­not be great if we do not feel safe in our homes, on our streets, and in our com­munit­ies.”

Rudy Gi­uliani, who was may­or of New York City on 9/11, was the star of the first night’s pro­ceed­ings. He landed sev­er­al scath­ing jabs at Pres­id­ent Obama, com­pared his uni­fy­ing rhet­or­ic as a Sen­ate can­did­ate with the po­lar­ized real­ity of today. “What happened to ‘There’s no black Amer­ica, there’s no white Amer­ica, there’s Amer­ica’?” Gi­uliani asked, mock­ingly. He was one of the few speak­ers to un­equi­voc­ally de­fend Trump. “I am sick and tired of the de­fam­a­tion of Trump by the me­dia and the Clin­ton cam­paign,” Gi­uliani ex­claimed. He ri­diculed Obama for re­fus­ing to call Is­lam­ic ter­ror­ism by its name.

But the sober in­dict­ments of Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton were sprinkled with celebrity testi­mo­ni­als to Trump by ‘80s sit­com icon Scott Baio, soap op­era reg­u­lar Ant­o­nio Sabato Jr., and Duck Dyn­asty scion Wil­lie Robertson.

Gi­uliani, former De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency chief Mi­chael Flynn, and Sen. Tom Cot­ton of Arkan­sas gave the most sub­stant­ive speeches on na­tion­al se­cur­ity, even though their hawk­ish views were at odds with the can­did­ate who claims pres­ci­ence for op­pos­ing the Ir­aq war. And all were over­shad­owed by Melania Trump’s clos­ing re­marks about—who else—Don­ald Trump.

The biggest chal­lenge Re­pub­lic­ans faced en­ter­ing the con­ven­tion was con­vin­cing a skep­tic­al pub­lic that Trump can be pres­id­en­tial. In most polls, voters be­lieve Trump is bet­ter equipped than Clin­ton to handle the eco­nomy and fight ter­ror­ism—the two most press­ing is­sues fa­cing the coun­try. But over­whelm­ing those small ad­vant­ages is the fact that large ma­jor­it­ies doubt he is pre­pared to be com­mand­er in chief.

The night’s pro­ceed­ings made the case against Clin­ton, but did little to bol­ster Trump’s cre­den­tials.

Melania helped him the most in this re­gard, speak­ing to his love for Amer­ica, loy­alty to fam­ily and friends, and tenacity in busi­ness: “He will do it bet­ter than any­one else can, and it won’t even be close.” But the gen­er­ic en­dorse­ment from his ob­vi­ously biased wife won’t do much to al­le­vi­ate the real con­cern voters have over his read­i­ness for the pres­id­ency. In 2012, Mitt Rom­ney’s fam­ily and friends offered nu­mer­ous ex­amples to bol­ster their case for his char­ac­ter. Melania’s ar­gu­ment amoun­ted to: Trust me.

Even though Trump’s al­lies suc­cess­fully squelched in­tern­al op­pos­i­tion at the con­ven­tion, he still faced wide­spread skep­ti­cism from anti-Trump forces throughout the night. Most of the Utah del­eg­a­tion sat si­lently as speak­ers won en­thu­si­ast­ic ap­plause throughout the arena. “The only way he’ll win over any Utah Re­pub­lic­ans is by prov­ing he’s not an au­thor­it­ari­an auto­crat,” said Utah Re­pub­lic­an del­eg­ate Ca­sey Voeks, a small busi­ness own­er. “Show me you’re not an auto­crat!”

That’s the case that Clin­ton and her al­lies will be mak­ing in Phil­adelphia next week—that Trump is too un­stable to trust with the coun­try’s nuc­le­ar codes and too bul­ly­ing to unite a di­vided coun­try. He has three more days to con­vince the op­pos­i­tion that their at­tacks won’t stick.