By MARSHA MERCER
Alice Roosevelt Longworth would have loved this week’s Republican National Convention.
Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter had a throw pillow in her sitting room embroidered with the line: “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.”
Republicans in Cleveland richly rewarded viewers who wanted to hear nothing good about Hillary Clinton. She wasn’t just the wrong choice for president; she’s a criminal, they charged.
“Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” delegates at Quicken Loans Arena shouted, leaping to their feet and shaking their fists. And when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, indicted Clinton’s performance and character in his speech Tuesday night, the crowd bellowed “Guilty!” after each new charge.
Republicans will see how it feels starting Monday, when the Democratic National Convention opens in Philadelphia and attempts to turn Republican Donald J. Trump’s into Public Enemy No. 1.
Character assassination has a long, colorful history in presidential politics. A newspaper editor who supported Thomas Jefferson in the bitter election of 1800 wrote of John Adams that he had “a hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force nor firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
But the sustained attacks on Clinton were a new level of mudslinging.
“She lied about her emails, she lied about her server, she lied about Benghazi, she lied about sniper fire – why she even lied about why her parents named her Hillary,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared.
The name claim stems from 1995 when the then-first lady said her mother always told her she was named for Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Mount Everest. But Clinton was born in 1947; Sir Edmund made the climb in 1953. Her presidential campaign conceded in 2006 it was just a “sweet family story.”
The GOP convention also showed rare disunity among the party faithful. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a former presidential contender, refused to attend, as did other Republican leaders. Some conservative delegates erupted in anger after party leaders stifled a rules change that would have permitted delegates to vote for candidates other than Trump.
On the convention’s first day, the chairman of the Virginia delegation and former state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Ted Cruz supporter, threw his credentials on the floor and marched out.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who boarded the Trump train late, sounded plaintive as he tried to unify Republicans. Only with Trump and his running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence “do we have a chance for a better way,” he said. Hardly a ringing endorsement.
“Let the other party go on and on with its constant dividing up of people, always playing one group against the other, as if group identity were everything,” said Ryan, the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012. “In America, aren’t we all supposed to be and see beyond class, see beyond ethnicity and all those other lines drawn to set us apart and lock us into groups?”
Cruz infuriated some delegates when he used his time at the podium Wednesday night not to endorse Trump but to give what sounded like his first presidential campaign speech of 2020. Delegates booed Cruz and shouted, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” as the presidential nominee walked in.
The most peculiar knock on Clinton came from former GOP presidential contender Dr. Ben Carson, who said one of Clinton’s heroes in college and the subject of her senior thesis was radical organizer Saul Alinsky. In the forward to one of his later books, Alinsky acknowledged Lucifer as the first radical organizer.
“So are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer?” Carson said. “Think about that.”
Clinton, perhaps previewing her attacks next week, insisted that Trump has nothing to offer the American people so he had to attack her. Trump’s “business model is basically fraud and abuse,” she said. “He talks about America First but his own products are made in a lot of countries that aren’t named America.”
At their convention, Republicans found one thing on which to agree: Hillary Clinton is their enemy. Democrats also agree on something: Trump is theirs.
Even before he endorsed Clinton, rival Bernie Sanders said he would work to defeat Trump. And when he finally did endorse her, Sanders said he wanted to make one thing clear: “I intend to do everything I can to make certain she is the next president.”
© 2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.