The evening of July 20th at the Republican National Convention was one of strong emotions: fear, anger, and resentment. Newt Gingrich played to his audience's fear of Islamic extremism and violence, then offered Trump as a strong leader who would overcome those fears. Later, Ted Cruz refused to endorse Donald Trump, provoking the audience's anger. Last night's speeches at the convention remind us that the Republican party remains divided against itself and draws its strength from the fear and uncertainty of Republican voters.
First, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich drew on the audience's fear of Islamic extremism, promising them that Donald Trump would keep them safer than Hillary Clinton. In a transcript of his speech posted at Bustle, Gingrich praised Trump's "courage" in acknowledging extremism.
"There have been many fascinating things to watch about the extraordinary, historic rise of Donald Trump, but the most significant has been Donald Trump's courage to tell some important truths about our national security. For example, we are at war. We are at war with radical Islamists. They are determined to kill us. They are stronger than we admit, and are greater in number than we admit."Gingrich warned that Islamic extremists want to deny rights to women, LGBTQ people, and non-Muslims. Given the GOP's record on women's issues, LGBTQ rights, and church-state separation, I found his words highly amusing.
"If our enemies had their way, not a single woman in this room could define her future. If our enemies had their way, not a single Jew or Christian in this room would be alive unless they agreed to submit. If our enemies had their way, gays, lesbians and transgender citizens would be put to death as they are today in the Islamic State and Iran. If our enemies had their way, every person on earth would be subject to conversion by the sword and to a cruel and violent system of laws. There would be no individual liberty. There would be no equality."Gingrich listed several recent crimes committed by Islamic extremists before assuring the audience that "we have nothing to fear from the vast majority of Muslims", reminding them that "the vast majority are peaceful; they are often the victims of the violence themselves."
To heighten his audience's fear of Islamic extremism, Gingrich claimed that terrorists could destroy an American city in a worst case scenario.
"Although we are losing the war with radical Islamists, we have been very lucky. The danger we face is much worse than the horrors that happened in Germany on New Year's Eve, when 2,000 women were assaulted. It's worse than what's happening in France, where there are stabbings of Jews in the streets and the intelligence chief warned recently that Europe is "on the brink of civil war." It's worse than what's happening in Israel, where average citizens fear for their lives whenever they leave their homes. The danger is even worse than September 11th, when 19 hijackers murdered almost 3,000 Americans. No. The worst case scenario is losing an American city to terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction. Instead of losing 3,000 people in one morning, we could lose more than 300,000. Instead of losing 2 great buildings, we could lose block after block after block to a nuclear event."After depicting Hillary Clinton as dishonest and corrupt, he praised Donald Trump as a man who would protect Americans through anti-immigration measures, military might, and new health care policies.
"He will rebuild our military--because he knows that a strong military is the best way to ensure peace. Donald Trump will secure our borders--because there is no such thing as a nation without a border. Donald Trump will enforce our immigration laws. He will end the policy of deliberate non-enforcement and will end the abuse of our visa programs--to protect American workers, and their wages. Donald Trump will take care of our veterans by holding bureaucrats at the Veterans Administration accountable. He WILL fire those responsible for the waiting lists, and will give veterans more choices about their care. With Donald Trump's leadership, no bureaucrat will get between a veterans and their doctor."
Later that evening, vice presidential nominee and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence delivered a speech with the usual Republican talking points. Like other speakers at the convention, he depicted Trump as a candidate who would tackle America's enemies and maintain "law and order". According to a Time transcript of the speech, he had this to say.
"We have a choice to make. This is another time for choosing. If you want a president who will protect this nation, confront radical Islamic terrorism and rid the world of ISIS, if you want a president who will restore law and order to this country and give law enforcement the support and resources they deserve, if you want a president who will cut taxes, grow our economy and squeeze every nickel out of the federal bureaucracy, if you want a president who will build strong borders and enforce our laws, and if you want a president who will upend the status quo in Washington, D.C. and appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will uphold the Constitution, we have but one choice and that man is ready, this team is ready, our party is ready. And when we elect Donald Trump the 45th president of the United States, together we will make America great again!"
The most controversial speaker of the night was former presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Cruz delivered a talk in which he denounced Hillary Clinton and encouraged listeners to vote, but stopped short of endorsing Trump. According to a transcript of the speech posted at Time, Cruz asked the audience to "vote your conscience" in November.
"We deserve leaders who stand for principal, who unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect from everybody. And, to those listening, please don’t stay home in November. If you love our country, and love our children as much as you do, stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom, and to be faithful to the constitution."The crowd booed Cruz as he left the stage. Republican observers were aghast.
At a Texas delegation breakfast the next morning, Cruz explained his motives. "I am not in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and attacks my father," he said, according to ABC News. Cruz's statement is a reference to Trump's mockery of Heidi Cruz's appearance and insinuation that Rafael Cruz (Ted Cruz's father) was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Cruz also said that he did not intend to "go like a servile puppy dog" in support of Trump, according to Politico.
Did we really need additional reminders of why Trump is not suited for the presidency? His inability to unify his own party does not make me confident that he could unite America or its allies. On the subject of security, Trump's recent statements about NATO leave his ability to protect America or its allies in serious question. The speeches of Gingrich and Pence tried to depict Trump as a strong protector, but the reality is more disappointing. The behavior of Cruz is yet another reminder of Trump's uncanny ability to alienate his would-be allies. Is this really someone we want in the White House?