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Why jobs night at the GOP convention wasn't much about jobs

CLEVELAND — As it turns out, the "Make America Work Again" night at the Republican National Convention here on Tuesday didn't focus very much on jobs and the economy. And when you consider the unique circumstances of 2016, that's not hard to understand.

Donald Trump, who was formally nominated in a roll call vote, has signature economic policies. But those policies — ripping up trade deals, protecting entitlement benefits from cuts, reducing immigration and building a massive border wall — conflict with the views of Republican congressional leaders. He shares their desire for tax cuts, but his own proposal would expand the deficit so much that advisors are pushing him to scale it back.

Dr. Ben Carson speaks on the second day of the Republican National Convention, as a portrait of Hilary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic party nominee for US president, appears on screens, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on July 19, 2016.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

So Tuesday night's convention speakers didn't linger much on economic policy. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who drew a lukewarm reception from Trump delegates, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who drew boos, hailed the prospect that a President Trump would sign bills passed by Republican majorities in Congress. Their principal goal this fall is preserving those majorities even if Trump loses, which many Republican political strategists believe is likely.

The emotional energy of the evening came from something different. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, miffed over being passed over to become Trump's running mate, brought delegates together with a call-and-response "mock trial" of Hillary Clinton in the wake of the Justice Department's decision not to charge her with any crimes over her handling of email as President Barack Obama's secretary of state.

Christie read out a series of indictments, and prompted delegates to boom out a boisterous "Guilty!" verdict. At one point, a chant of "Lock her up" broke out.

That reflects the fact that, in modern American politics, "negative partisanship" is a powerful motivation in a polarized electorate. Antipathy toward Clinton and her party is a far more potent unifying force among Republicans than Trump his.

As for Trump personally, the convention's second night was much better than the first. The controversy over Melania Trump's Monday speech, and the passages it improbably borrowed from Michelle Obama's 2008 Democratic convention address, faded as afternoon turned into evening.

Two of Trump's children, Tiffany and Donald Trump Jr., delivered poised and polished performances before delegates and a huge television audience. She told of how attentive her father had been to her school report cards. He delivered a longer address that weaved praise for his father — "my best friend" — with more politically conventional invocations of conservative economic philosophy and denunciations of liberalism.

Wednesday night the convention hears from Trump's vice presidential pick, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana.