The current state of the American economy — not amazing but not terrible either, and clearly in a much better state than how George W. Bush left it — creates an objectively tricky situation for the opposition party. On their “Make America Work Again” evening dedicated to jobs and the economy, Republicans needed to connect with Americans’ still-very-real economic pain without falling into the trap of painting an excessively dark and unrecognizable situation.
Instead of rising to that challenge, they talked about Benghazi.
On the economic troubles afflicting the American middle class, they have nothing to say.
Anything but a jobs plan
Well, not just Benghazi. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey spoke extensively about Hillary Clinton’s email server troubles. Chris Cox from the National Rifle Association explained that Clinton would be insufficiently zealous in safeguarding Americans’ right to firearms ownership. Both the governor and the attorney general of Arkansas were on hand to talk in a totally nonspecific way about alleged corruption from way back in the day. I think one of them mentioned Clinton Foundation fundraising.
Then Natalie Gulbis showed up to share with us some words of advice that Donald Trump once shared with her: “In everything you do, be fearless.”
Then Trump himself, via videoconference with a poor audio connection, popped by to promise the restoration of law and order.
And then, of course, came the showstopper — Chris Christie’s mock trial of Hillary Clinton, punctuated by repeated choruses of, “Lock her up.” Christie displayed his very real skills as a showman, and demonstrated a command of the room that’s been rare across the 2016 Republican convention. As a red meat speech, it was one of the finest delivered in years. It was also, in many respects, horrifying.
But whatever you make of it, it wasn’t about jobs and the economy. And don’t get me started on Ben Carson, Saul Alinsky, and Hillary Clinton’s possible ties to devil worship.
Republicans can’t stop chasing shiny scandal objects
Some of these hits on Hillary Clinton are wildly unfair. Others are over the top. Some make sense. And certainly it makes sense for Republicans to spend some time and energy talking about this kind of thing. But fundamentally, just as the Clintons and the media are locked in a pointless, toxic cycle of scandal and cover-up, the Republican Party is locked in its own cycle of pathological overreach.
The issue is that at the end of the day, politics is about normal people, not politicians.
The politicians’ job is to talk about how electing them is going to help solve some kind of problems in your life. You might enjoy some more job opportunities or a path to making higher education or child care more affordable.
One speech about how Hillary Clinton deserves to go to jail because her email server attacked the US compound in Benghazi is fine — it reminds voters of some things they maybe don’t like about her. But an entire evening of speeches about that is odd. And an entire evening of speeches labeled as dedicated to jobs and the economy that actually turns out to be rants about how Clinton needs to go to jail sends the message that you have no agenda on jobs and the economy.
There’s been a lot of talk over the past few months about the relative weight of economic anxieties versus pure bigotry in driving support for Trump. What we saw Tuesday night is that if anyone is out there feeling anxious about the economy, Trump has no answer for you. Republicans are offering a full-employment plan for congressional staffers on special investigative committees but have basically nothing to say about middle-class paychecks or middle-class problems.