Every political convention features a major prime-time speech attacking the other party's nominee. But on Tuesday night, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie lowered the boom on Hillary Clinton in a new and sharper way than we've seen before. Reminding the viewers that he was once a U.S. Attorney, Christie ticked off a list of virtual "indictments" of Clinton's record as Secretary of State including the policy failures in Libya, Syria, Russia, China, and Cuba. Christie whipped up the crowd into a frenzy as the convention hall was echoing with chants of "guilty!" and "lock her up!" throughout.
This came after Rudy Giuliani, in an epic rant on Monday, blamed Barack Obama for not properly identifying our enemies ("Islamic extremists") and accused Hillary Clinton of "derelection of duty" and a "failure to keep her people safe" in Benghazi and "lying directly to the families of the people who were killed." He concluded that no one should entrust Hillary Clinton with the job of commander-in-chief and protecting the American people.
Later Tuesday evening after Christie spoke, former presidential candidate and neurosurgeon Ben Carson linked Hillary Clinton to Lucifer.
This isn't simply a matter of a strong political personality going full pit bull or disgruntled former presidential candidates blowing off steam. This intense attack rhetoric is part of the new norm in a GOP nominee Donald Trump world. Trump's nomination has left the GOP more fractured than usual, and focusing on the goal of defeating Clinton is still the best way to create some party unity.
The weird part of night No. 2 was the speech by current House Speaker Paul Ryan, who insisted this election is going to be a contest of ideas. Ryan wasn't fooling anyone with that line, but if he truly believes that, he's definitely in danger of not beating back the serious challenge he faces to keep his own House seat this November.
Don't expect the other party leaders to follow Ryan's lead in their upcoming speeches, with the exception of Mike Pence who still needs to fully introduce himself to the nation. You will see some stateliness and eloquence from Trump's other kids, Eric and Ivanka, as you did from Donald Trump, Jr. on Tuesday. But there are more pit bull speakers where Christie came from. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz are slated to speak on Wednesday night and I expect them to march to the same anti-Clinton drummer. Senator and former Presidential Candidate Marco Rubio, who is also scheduled to speak on Wednesday, might be the nastiest of them all as he recently decided to run for re-election in Florida, and will surely need to copy and enhance Christie's comments about the Clinton/Obama foreign policy record – especially on Cuba.
Was there a serious downside to the harsh attacks by Christie and others?
If this were any other year, the opposing party's response to sharp-tongued attacks at the convention rostrum would be staged reactions of shock and sadness amid sanctimonious calls for more civility in politics. That's what Republicans did successfully in 1988 in reaction to Ann Richards' "silver foot in his mouth" joke about George H.W. Bush at the Democratic convention, a joke that, compared to the rhetoric of this election, seems like a love pat. And, after Pat Buchanan's 1992 GOP convention speech about a cultural war erupting in America, Democrats responded very effectively simply by explaining how frightening Buchanan's sentiments really were.
Not this time. The gloves are off — and everyone knows it.
The first official reaction to Christie was a Tweet from the Clinton campaign snidely referencing Christie's "Bridgegate" scandal:
Welcome to the new normal. With two candidates both weighed down by historically high unfavorable ratings, a lot of the old rules about campaign discourse are in the garbage.
Remember four years ago? The harshest thing that came out of the 2012 GOP convention was actor/director Clint Eastwood delivering an odd and rambling speech that included a conversation with an empty chair, where he questioned Obama's decisions. It fostered more scorn and confusion than anything else. Perhaps that approach seemed wiser at the time when a sitting president with millions of zealous followers was the opponent. Hillary Clinton has lots of zealous followers too, but unlike President Obama, she has those unfavorable ratings in the 50 percent-to-60 percent range, a "non-indictment/indictment" over her illegal email use from the FBI, and lots more negatives — all without Obama's personal charm.
The fact that the Democrats aren't even bothering to promise to hold a kinder and gentler convention says a lot. It would be ludicrous for them to say that considering so many Clinton campaign supporters and surrogates continue to compare Trump to Adolf Hitler and the GOP to fascist racists on a daily basis. But the biggest reason that would be ridiculous is because the voters and the delegates from both parties are way too angry, too fed up, and too scared about the present and future to play nice anymore.
The nastiness will continue tonight, tomorrow night, all next week at the Democratic convention, and for the next four months … at least. Get used to it.