Andrew Sullivan Liveblogs the RNC, Night 1

Delegates take the floor before the start of the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Welcome, I guess, to my New York live-blog of the two conventions of 2016. Settle in, calm your nerves (mine will be frayed enough for all of us), have a drink (or a joint), and enjoy!

If you want to send me your thoughts as the events proceed, email me at (if you’re a recovering dishhead, you can also always use the old email address).

11.24 p.m. I’m done with Joni Ernst – as is everyone else, it seems.

So I’ll leave you with some other gems from Dina Martina’s live-blog of Melania’s speech:

Yes, it was surreal.

11:09 p.m. Just mulling over the events tonight, there’s one obvious stand-out. I didn’t hear any specific policy proposals to tackle clearly stated public problems. It is almost as if governing, for the Republican right, is fundamentally about an attitude, rather than about experience or practicality or reasoning. The degeneracy of conservatism – its descent into literally mindless appeals to tribalism and fear and hatred – was on full display. You might also say the same about the religious right, the members of whom have eagerly embraced a racist, a nativist, a believer in war crimes, and a lover of the tyrants that conservatism once defined itself against. Their movement long lost any claim to a serious Christian conscience. But that they would so readily embrace such an unreconstructed pagan is indeed a revelation.

If you think of the conservative movement as beginning in 1964 and climaxing in the 1990s, then the era we are now in is suffering from a cancer of the mind and the soul. That the GOP has finally found a creature that can personify these urges to purge, a man for whom the word “shameless” could have been invented, a bully and a creep, a liar and cheat, a con man and wannabe tyrant, a dedicated loather of individual liberty, and an opponent of the pricelessly important conventions of liberal democracy is perhaps a fitting end.

This is the gutter, ladies and gentlemen, and it runs into a sewer. May what’s left of conservatism be carried out to sea.

11:04 p.m.

What makes me actually afraid is the thought that this absurd clown was actually in a senior leadership role in the military. And well-regarded! The networks will end their coverage with this angry, rambling old white guy. It’s been quite a night, hasn’t it?

11:00 p.m. “Lock her up!” “Lock her up!” This is the reddest of red meat. Now he’s leading a chant of “Lock her up!” The misogyny seems pretty close to the surface.

10:58 p.m. We should all be up at night, the general insist, scared stupid by Islamist terrorism. Now he’s actually whipping out the Cheney line about these Islamists having WMDS! This speech could have been given in 2003. Nothing has been learned from the Bush years, in this man’s terrified mind. It’s particularly weird given Trump’s apparent distaste for foreign intervention.

10:56 p.m.

10:50 p.m. I’ve never heard so many vacuous clichés repeated endlessly. Just some feeling about an allegedly lost America. (And suddenly we have a mention of bathrooms. That was out of left field.) Then this rather ominous statement: “War is about winning.” This is code for war crimes, I think. I cannot imagine how this will win more converts. “Displays of empathy for terrorists?” Who is doing that? Again, I think the subtext is about torture and the mass murder of civilians. And, of course, the notion that Obama is in league with international terrorism.

10:46 p.m. This Flynn dude is awful. Just blather. No policy proposals. An argument for a more aggressive internationalist footprint by a demagogue making the case for retreat. It’s so incoherent it beggars belief. Now he’s just yelling “USA! USA!” in some deranged rant about American power. Who thought he’d be a good follow-up to the question-and-answer segment of a beauty pageant? McKay:

10:43 p.m. A reader writes:

Your whole emotion vs. rationality argument puts me in mind of Newt Gingrich’s response to his wife when he told her he was leaving her. When she pointed out that was in direct contradiction to the family values he espoused as a Republican, Newt argued back that what was important wasn’t what he actually did, it was the narrative. That’s what the convention-goers want — the narrative. And by god, Trump and his acolytes are going to give it to them.

And this is the narrative: an alien president is deliberately subverting the United States, the country is lawless chaos, the world a total fireball and we need STRENGTH.

10:42 p.m. No anecdotes, as I noted. No actual evidence of anything:

10:40 p.m. So good:

10:39 p.m. Leave. Freddie. Mercury. Alone.

10:38 p.m. The speech sounds like one given by the winner in one of Trump’s beauty pageants. Bland, vacuous, devoid of fact or even anecdote. And I just wonder how this foreign beauty will go down among the Duck Dynasty crowd.

10:37 p.m. A reader writes:

Melania just said that Donald will never give up and he will never let us down. Did she just Rick Roll us?

10:36 p.m. Heh:

10:31 p.m. I’m sorry but I can’t handle this right now. It’s so surreal. So deeply weird. “We need new programs to help the poor.” Which ones has Trump endorsed? Or did I miss something? Now she says Donald wants to help “the poor and the middle class”, even though his economic plan shovels truckloads of money toward the super-rich. Whatevs, I guess.

10:30 p.m. Melania is losing the audience, it seems to me. Lewis agrees:

10:27 p.m. That Slovenian accent in the middle of this orgasm over white working class America has my jaw dropping a little. Amazing how Trump pulls this off. But Dole will probably get a medically enhanced boner now.

10:26 p.m. Sleep tight, America:

10:25 p.m. Melania disagrees with her husband in believing his opponents deserve respect.

10:24 p.m. That silhouette in the smoke. It’s gonna give me nightmares tonight. And now for the second immigrant super-model speech. It’s getting weirder.

10:23 p.m. Nicely put:

10:20 p.m. Rudy ended his angry orgasm shouting “USA! USA!” Oy.

10:19 p.m.

10:17 p.m. The Hillary-is-a-heartless-murderer theme is ramping up. Meanwhile, Trump will “lead by leading.” Yep.

10:16 p.m. He seems a little excitable:

10:15 p.m. But we have secured a nuclear-free Iran! Is that not part of their reality?

10:13 p.m. Do any of these speakers actually believe that Osama bin Laden is dead? Or that ISIS is in retreat in Iraq and Syria? Or would that interrupt their feeling?

10:12 p.m. Notice how the right believes that saying certain things does certain things. It’s as if this party were a talk radio show. It never has to govern; it never has to take responsibility; it simply has to insist that its opponents cannot say the right words.

10:11 p.m. Heh:

10:09 p.m. Does Giuliani believe that the president of the United States has the same power and role as a mayor of a major city? And how could Trump bring down crime rates the way Giuliani did? They’re already at rock bottom. But again this is about feeling, not reason.

10:05 p.m. Notice Guiliani’s repeating the notion that people “feel afraid” rather than they have reason to feel afraid. And that fear is, of course, fomented by the rightwing propaganda machine. Fox News is fear – every day. Drudge is racial panic and fear – every minute. And the fear they create helps sustain the turn toward authoritarianism. I have barely heard anyone talking about freedom tonight. Trump has as much interest in freedom as he has in paying his bills.

10:01 p.m. Here’s the link to the Harvard study debunking the BLM argument. I find it conclusive. Feelings do not, er, trump data in a deliberative democracy. A reader writes:

I understand that there has been the recent study suggesting that given an interaction with a police officer occurs, then the police officer is no more likely to use a gun with a black person than with a white person. However, given that many black men have a much higher rate of interaction with police (such as, anecdotally, Philando Castile, with 52 traffic stops), then is it not fair to say that black men are disproportionately killed by cops?

The point is that there is no evidence of individual racism in these police encounters, despite the impression from many chilling phone videos. The structural bias still exists as a whole, as I said, but the narrative about cops being more likely to kill a black member of the public when encountering him is false.

9:59 p.m. Sometimes you have to take a second to absorb the GOP as a protectionist party. In just four short years, a complete reversal of a defining plank of the party in modern times.

9:54 p.m. Now we have an argument for ending the core laws of warfare. I wondered when someone would make the case for war crimes – which is now official Republican policy. “Lead with strength” means torture and murder of civilians. The vagueness here is deeply disturbing and also fascistic. The military is operating under the same rules of war these past seven years as the previous eight. The GOP nominee wants to end the Geneva Conventions and authorize war crimes of unimaginable ferocity. No candidate in the history of the United States has ever campaigned on a platform of war crimes as an ideal form of warfare.

This is why I have no hesitation calling this out as neo-fascist. Trump is attacking the core civilizational norms that actually do keep us safe.

9:53 p.m. Another grieving mother?

9:50 p.m. Can I name a war that Tom Cotton ever opposed? Not off the top of my head.

9:47 p.m. A reader dissents:

Are you talking about the recent Harvard report that came out? I guess you are TECHNICALLY correct- the data in a few of the thousands of police districts in the US (the data came mainly from large metropolitan areas with diverse populations, which are generally not the districts where the most publicized deaths have occurred, but I digress) shows that black men are not more likely to die, but they ARE much more likely to experience non-lethal force (like kicking and punching) than other groups, and are far and away more likely to be targeted by police- having more interactions with the police leads to more violent interactions simply by the numbers. Equating the frustration and anguish of the Black Lives Matter movement with the fiction that America in general is less safe than it was whenever it is that these people think America was “great” is insulting.

The key argument of BLM is that black lives are at stake, and can be killed with impunity by racist cops. That is false. So much else about police interactions with black men is painful and appalling. But their lives are as safe as white lives, when confronting cops.

9:44 p.m. There’s nothing this crowd loves more than calling for Hillary Clinton to be in jail. It’s worth noting that this is not normal politics. This is stab-in-the-back neo-fascist rhetoric. Obama refused to prosecute or even threaten to prosecute officials guilty of brutal war crimes – so as not to criminalize politics. This parody of a political party wants to jail their political opponent for extremely careless storage of emails.

9:42 p.m. America 2016: Blue Lives Matter vs Black Lives Matter. As if they are incompatible! As if they are alternatives!

9:38 p.m. Another African-American. Redder than red. But he just ripped off Obama’s 2004 speech. A reader writes:

Can you call it dog-whistling when it is at such a low tone? There isn’t even anything veiled about it anymore. I feel like I am watching dramatic readings of my aunt Millie Jo’s Facebook wall.

9:37 p.m. I’m reaching peak hathos right now. Can it get peaker? I’m waiting for Melania.

9:36 p.m. True this:

9:28 p.m. A sheriff is trying to argue against the facts of a drop in crime. He offers instead a feeling: that people do not feel secure in their communities. Again, it is vital to avoid the data or the facts. What matters is pure feeling. This goes of course also for the Black Lives Matter activists, whose core and central argument is that black men are disproportionately killed by cops. The best data shows this is false – just as their narrative about Michael Brown was false. Thanks in part to the radicalized racial left – we now have merely one identity politics waging war against another. They have a terrible inter-relationship, these two illiberalisms. They foment each other.

9:24 p.m. Here comes the Sheriff! And he has a message: “Blue lives matter!” What has happened that this sentiment could be used as a partisan political rallying cry? And now we have a politicized celebration of a cop being found not guilty in a Baltimore incident. This is gasoline on a fire. More will be poured before this week is over.

9:19 p.m. The man who destroyed al Qaeda and killed Osama bin Laden, authorized drone attacks, and has been slowly cornering ISIL – he’s someone who “let the wildfires of Jihadism go unchecked,” according to Texas congressman McCaul. He also seems to imply that Trump will “shake the ground [the Jihadists] walk on.” How? Or is that far too rational a question?

9:17 p.m. Conservatism 1989: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Conservatism 2016: “Build That Wall! Build That Wall!”

9:15 p.m. Heh:

9:10 p.m. Now the first African-American on the podium is speaking of his son’s bleeding after a murderous attack by an illegal immigrant. He says his son was targeted because he was black. So black lives do matter – if killed by an immigrant. “Only Trump mentions Americans killed by illegal immigrants … Trump is sent by God.” Again, this is the politicization of a father’s grief.

9:09 p.m. Another mother’s grief weaponized. This time from a mother whose son was killed by an illegal immigrant.

9:06 p.m. From the hall:

9:04 p.m. That’s about right:

Trump is the first candidate to campaign for jailing his opponent.

9:03 p.m. Antonio Sabato Jr. invokes Jesus – Jesus – as a reason to vote for a fascist. Not since Franco 

9:01 p.m. The sheer personal hatred of Hillary Clinton is another primary emotion coursing through the RNC bloodstream:

Let me say – as a card-carrying Hillary-hater of many years – this strikes me as deranged

8:51 p.m. A reader writes:

You’ve hit on something with absence of reason. There’s a chasm between those folks at that convention and the other side, and I don’t think it can be bridged. How in the world does this play out?

If this convention were culminating in the nomination of Mitt Romney for instance, I guess I’d say the distance can be bridged. We’ll persevere. But we are looking at the very, very real possibility that Donald Trump is our next President. That is different, isn’t it? And judging from what just went down at this convention, what happens if Hillary wins?

8:50 p.m. Even the hard right is having some issues with the theme of Hillary Clinton arranging the murder of U.S. service members:

8:46 p.m. Scott Baio is telling CNN that he was asked to speak last Thursday. He was gobsmacked. Then he explains why he backs Trump: “He was a guy who will fight back … Republicans never fight back.” This is the mindset that we have to come to terms with. After eight years of intense and unprecedented obstructionism, after risking the credit of the U.S., after refusing to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee … we hear that the GOP has never “fought back.”

8:43 p.m. Meanwhile back at Fox News:

8:38 p.m. A reader writes:

Can you imagine then-Senator Barack Obama weaponizing a 9/11 widow on stage in Denver, in 2008, to rant and rage against George Bush? I’ve never seen anything more stomach-churningly distasteful on a political stage, and I’ve attended a Sarah Palin rally.

The exploitation of that woman’s emotions is, yes, another new low. But I suspect we are going to have an orgy of this kind of gut, primary feeling this week, and trying to counter it rationally is close to impossible. That’s how deliberative democracy is dismantled, bit by bit, feeling by feeling. Yes, it’s preaching to a very small choir, but Trump has no rational, calm side. He is pure id. So it is completely appropriate and predictable that his convention will simply channel the crudest, strongest emotions – fear, patriotism, family, tribe. These are the key themes of the authoritarian soul. And he’s just getting started.

8:35 p.m. I take Lewis’ point. This is an appeal to the gut, using ordinary people to foment primal passions. It’s a hyper-democratic spin on visceral feelings, fears and hatred. What we’re getting is an absence of reason – a critical move if you are going to get a neo-fascist in power. Reason will never cut it.

8:34 p.m. Matt Lewis likes what he’s seeing:

8:30 p.m.

8:28 p.m. And now a grieving mother gets up to blame Hillary Clinton personally for her son’s military death. Can you imagine the 2008 Democratic convention if they had asked mother after mother to blame George W. Bush for the deaths of their sons personally. “How could she do this to me?” Incredible and quite disgusting emotional blackmail. So beyond any parameters of good taste or decency it beggars belief. But it’s a primary color and will rile up the base.

8:27 p.m. Ouch:

8:21 p.m. Luttrell dispenses with the TeleptompTer. But this is becoming a bit of a train wreck. He’s now calling for the next generation to take the fight to the enemy at home “because it’s here.” Nothing said about Trump. Just a veiled swipe at “Black Lives Matter.”

8:16 p.m. Now a guy in glasses who once called Trump a “cancer” is rhapsodizing about Marcus Luttrell, the war hero.

8:15 p.m. “Let’s make America America again.” The dog whistle there is even reaching my ear drums.

8:14 p.m. Now a rather terrified sitcom star is saying something.

8:12 p.m. “We need a president who has our back.” The “Obama-is-a-traitor” theme is introduced. Now, an implication that the president does not back the police.

8:11 p.m. Good beard at the podium as one reality TV star introduces another.

8:10 p.m. A reader writes:

Here’s a question for you to answer right at the top: in your wildest imagination, could you ever have seen the Republican party in the state it is now when Barack Obama was elected in 2008, i.e. if you could have hopped in a time machine and advanced 8 years (from 2008 to 2016), how shocked/surprised/appalled would you be?

I wish I were more surprised. What actually shocked me was the response of the GOP to the first black president. I actually believed they might have seen the historical significance of that, and extended a modicum of respect and even some deference to the new figure as he took over in a moment of national crisis. I was wrong. Their ideological extremism and their clearly revealed racial animus became very quickly clear. I see the nomination of Trump – a white racist nationalist – as the GOP’s final response to that opportunity. It’s tragic. But helps frame what this election has now become about: decency and democracy against foul demagoguery, authoritarian brutality and race hatred.

I see no reason to moderate my loathing of what the GOP has revealed itself to be in 2016. Its defeat is a global necessity.

8:05 p.m. The theme tonight is “Making America Safe Again.” As others have noted, this is a strange formulation. Crime rates are bobbing along the bottom of the historical trends, making this country safer than at any time since the early 1960s. The military supremacy of the U.S. across the globe is unparalleled.

8:00 p.m. Of course, quite how to cover this convention compared with previous ones presents something of a challenge. Do I sit here with my mouth open, jaw dropped, eyes popping, reaching for the weed? Do I take it in any way seriously? Or do I take it extremely seriously, as the only moment in my own lifetime that a major democracy has stood poised to elect a neo-fascist demagogue, bent on mass deportation, evisceration of due process, restrictions on the press, an alliance with dictatorships, and war crimes as the core principle of military action? Or all of the above?

Andrew Sullivan Liveblogs the RNC, Night 1