Donald Trump completed his takeover of the GOP last night, officially securing the nomination — on an evening, fittingly enough, that was ostensibly about the economy but devolved at times into angry chants about throwing Hillary Clinton in prison.
Such talk is common among Republicans and GOP-aligned media elites, of course. Much of the time it’s mainly about supplying care and feeding to a GOP base. But this time, the chants of “lock her up” hinted at something more. Tellingly, they came amid increasing signs that Republicans think they are going to lose this election, which suggests that this might also represent an effort — perhaps only intended at this point in the dimmest of ways — to delegitimize Clinton’s presidency in advance, should she win.
Here’s Chris Christie, a man who once functioned as a real prosecutor, whipping up the audience into a frenzy by leading them in chants about how Clinton has been “guilty” of a whole litany of offenses as Secretary of State, most of them involving international decisions. This happened:
Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) presented his case against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at the GOP convention on Tuesday, July 18. People in the crowd shouted “guilty!” throughout his speech and started a “lock her up” chant.
Note that as the chants of “lock her up” intensified, Christie nodded along. He then concluded with: “Oh, believe me, we’re not done yet. The indictment is hardly complete.” Christie was probably referring there to the rest of his speech. But this came after Republicans spent the first two nights of their convention accusing Clinton of a variety of heinous offenses, on her emails, on Benghazi, and so forth. Last night, this also led last to chants of “lock her up,” as speakers assented from the stage.
A variety of investigations have failed to produce evidence of criminal behavior on Clinton’s part. In the context of these “lock her up” chants, then, this sort of assent from the convention speakers (seen in a more subtle form from Christie last night) comes across as an effort to keep hope alive — hope that, if necessary, can be sustained into a Clinton presidency.
All of this prompted Senator Jeff Flake, who has not endorsed Trump, to dissent:
But the rub here is that Republicans might not be able to make the case that Clinton shouldn’t be elected without jumping the shark. The New York Times reports today that leading GOP stars are already eying the 2020 election, and are using the convention to position themselves for it to an unusual extent. Why? Because party leaders are “openly skeptical” that Trump can beat Clinton.
As Brian Beutler argues, you can draw a line directly from Trump’s birtherism about Obama to the “lock her up” chants about Clinton. Both are about denying the fundamental legitimacy of the opposition’s electoral victories, or electoral viability, or even political aspirations. In this case, though, the de-legitimization is taking place in advance of a Clinton victory that many Republicans themselves now believe is likely.
I don’t know if this is an intentional effort to lay the groundwork to undermine a Clinton presidency, or just a kind of coping mechanism that is evolving to soften the blow of a Clinton win — the idea being that even if she wins the presidency, she should not have, so on some level it doesn’t really represent a legitimate decision on the part of the American people. But either way, it already seems plausible that a sizable bloc of hard core GOP base voters will not accept a Clinton presidency as legitimate. Yes, this happens on both sides: Many Democrats came to feel the same way about George W. Bush’s presidency. But it’s remarkable how viscerally and visibly this is already on display at a convention that is supposed to be about making a proactive case for the GOP nominee that broadens his appeal among undecided voters.
(via: Washington Post)