Andrew Sullivan Liveblogs the RNC, Night 4

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). Please refresh to update.

11:44 p.m. I’m out for the week. And I have to cover the Clintons next week. And you wonder why I gave up blogging every day and night.

See you Monday night!

11:30 p.m. I have to say I’m relieved. This was a terrible presentation of what read like a powerful speech. It seems screechy, unmodulated, and yet also plodding. Mussolini never had a Teleprompter.

11:29 p.m. A reader writes:

Tonight the words of Marilynne Robinson come to mind: “First, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”

This is a dark paganism.

11:27 p.m. This is dragging. By the time it’s over, it will be midnight in America.

11:25 p.m. Now he wants a total fusion of politics and religion, by allowing tax exempt churches to be directly involved in political campaigning. I think he sees the evangelical movement rather like Putin sees the Russian Orthodox church.

11:24 p.m. Channeling Putin:

11:23 p.m. That was a real chant from the audience: “Yes You Will!” “Yes You Will!” A total worship of a strongman. Compare it with “Yes We Can.”

11:20 p.m. He will end student debt and pay for a big increase in military sending by leveraging NATO allies. None of this makes any fiscal sense, especially given a $9 trillion tax cut.

It’s also striking how the concept of “freedom” is utterly absent from this speech. It’s all about government power – or rather the near-miraculous powers of a strongman.

11:19 p.m. I’m on Obamacare and I picked my own doctor. Again, he offers no actual alternative proposal. Just slogans at this point.

11:17 p.m. Now we have a bonfire of regulations. Again, no real specifics. But a full-scale attack on all attempts to restrain climate change is a real possibility. Quite how coal will surge back, creating millions of manufacturing jobs, is a mystery to me. Technology and automation are absent from the discussion.

11:11 p.m. He’ll turn bad trade deals into good ones! So simple. He will personally punish companies that move resources or employees overseas. Can a president do that? Who cares, at this point? This is the most protectionist speech from a national nominee in my lifetime. And it’s a direct attack on globalization. It’s a declaration of trade war.

11:09 p.m. Having spent the better part of the last 30 years trying to immigrate to America, the idea that we have “uncontrolled immigration” seems positively surreal to me. It’s incredibly hard, onerous, nerve-wracking and super-expensive to immigrate to America. It should be easier, not harder.

11:08 p.m. It’s midnight in America.

11:05 p.m. Have you noticed how Trump thinks all these deep problems can be solved quickly? Always fast. Always obvious. As if everyone else in government in both parties is either stupid or malevolent.

11:04 p.m. “We don’t want them in our country.” An unscripted eruption from Trump’s gut. I can’t imagine any other nominee in my lifetime speaking so crudely, and evoking so much fear and loathing of immigrants.

11:03 p.m. No mention of the policy of deporting 11 million undocumented and illegal aliens. That was his signature issue not so long ago.

11:02 p.m. Some views from the pro-Trump faction:


10:59 p.m. Finally a concrete proposal: banning immigrants from countries “compromised by terrorism.” Would that include France? Meanwhile, he is talking about “massive refugee flows” coming into the country. This is a complete fabrication.

10:57 p.m. We’re going to defeat Islamic terrorism with our allies. Quickly. Fast. How? He won’t say. He promised some reforms earlier in the speech. None has emerged. Surely those open to his blandishments can see he has nothing specific to offer.

10:55 p.m. I keep giggling at “LGBTQ”. Who actually uses all five consonants, except those saying it for the first time? But Trump seems genuine in his support for gay people and our humanity. It’s cynical and sincere.

10:54 p.m. Readers chime in:

Trump seems a bit stilted going from sentence to sentence via the teleprompter. That reveals that the speech is a construction of claims rather than a natural statement. It sounds argumentative rather than assured. It’s not flowing, it’s being punched out.

Why is he shouting? When you speak in a hall this big, you ignore its size. The shouting limits his ability to inflect. Again, a reminder that the speech is an artifact, not a channeling of reality. Significantly diminishes its accessibility. We’re witnessing a guy who’s making an effort to be emphatic, so we’re aware of the level on which it’s artifice.


This is a horrible speech. His delivery is worse. He also keeps pivoting to foreign affairs, global issues – seemingly because his ego can’t be contained within the boundaries of the domestic. At moments he starts screaming just to raise his bile up to wake himself up. To get that bit of rage-high. He’s bored to death otherwise. Trying desperately to contain his ADD.

10:52 p.m. We allegedly have more violence than Trump has ever seen in his lifetime. It seems he can say nothing except in the broadest hyperboles. And suddenly he’s saying he wants to be the voice of the black urban poor? The head keeps spinning.

10:49 p.m. And now you see why strongmen need the perception of “violence and terrorism and lawlessness.” He’s right, of course, abut the need to back law enforcement. But to use that as a political cudgel, to imply that the current president doesn’t have the back of the country’s cops, is deeply corrosive of the very order he says he wants to protect.

10:48 p.m. How some are seeing this:

10:44 p.m. Now he’s accusing Clinton of obstruction of justice, in concealing her “egregious crimes” that the FBI couldn’t detect. Now he’s accusing the FBI of being corrupt, of deliberately protecting a powerful person from equal enforcement of the laws.

Again, no reform proposals yet. Just attitude. Like his usual stump speech without the amusing riffs.

10:42 p.m. Still waiting for the reform proposals that will prevent so many people feeling left out.

10:40 p.m. More reality:

10:39 p.m. I’m waiting for his reform proposals. Aren’t you? They’ll create trillions in new wealth. Overnight. Meanwhile, Hillary is a puppet controlled by sinister special interests.

10:38 p.m. Seriously:

10:37 p.m. Some reality:

10:36 p.m. He has a plan?

10:34 p.m. Trump seems to think that the Arab Spring was caused by Hillary Clinton. The argument he seems to be making is that we need to intervene more thoroughly, except his actual policy is to withdraw further. Hillary represents “death, destruction, weakness.”

10:33 p.m. Shorter Trump: “Everything is terrible. I alone can solve. Just don’t ask me how.”

10:31 p.m. The Iran deal gave us “absolutely nothing” except the massive reduction in nuclear stockpiles, and peace in the Middle East.

10:29 p.m. This does not read as well in the hall as it did on paper.

10:26 p.m. Trump blames crime in Chicago on Obama. Now he’s pivoting to illegal immigrants “roaming free” to harm Americans. They’re a threat to public safety. And the crowd chants “Build That Wall!” The victims of these criminals are so often young women, according to Trump. Obama, he tells us, does not want to protect American lives.

10:25 p.m. A man who has lied insistently and compulsively for months now is telling us he alone is telling the truth. Meanwhile:

10:23 p.m. Trump says he can end all crime and violence in America beginning in January 2017.

10:21 p.m. Trump begins by bragging about his primary numbers. Then he pivots to the picture of chaos and crisis in America, the essential backdrop for a strongman solution.

10:17 p.m. A simple question:

Who cares? If you were to add up the utterly contradictory promises and fantasies we have heard from this platform, you could believe anything.

10:16 p.m. “The single most qualified person” in America to be president. Can even she believe this? Or is all this “truthful hyperbole”?

10.13 p.m. The fantasy continues. Not everyone is buying it:

Imagine how moving it would be to hear from the actual objects of Trump’s kindness and compassion, rather than Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s family just telling you so. The con is so massive it might work. That’s the huge advantage of shamelessness in politics.

10:11 p.m. We have a brand new promise to make childcare accessible and affordable for all. Believe that, if you will. The gap between this rhetoric and, you know, your lyin’ eyes, is vast:

10:09 p.m. So many testimonials to this man’s kindness, compassion and charitable giving. Yet no anecdotes specifically and no record of charity from public sources.

10:08 p.m. Does Ivanka have a wind-blower keeping her blonde tresses lightly waving in the breeze? The content is so vacuous I keep looking at the hair.

10:01 p.m. The Giuliani testimony is so weirdly bland. The clichés and truisms keep piling on top of each other. And there’s this foul underlying theme that the current president doesn’t back law enforcement. Still:

9:58 p.m. This biopic is some corny ’80s MTV profile. Without Trump, it appears, New York City would never have thrived in the past three decades. For some reason, no mention of his Vietnam dilemma.

9:54 p.m. A conservative weeps:

9:53 p.m. Gays of our lives:

9:49 p.m. Am I having another Romney-Obama debate freakout? Maybe. We’ll see how Trump delivers it. Meanwhile a reader tells me to calm down:

I think you, and Frum, are a tad overestimating the power of, “Oh my God, everything’s a disaster! And I, alone, will fix everything!” There is a portion of the American electorate ripe for that but I think it’s smaller than your fear. President Obama’s approval rating today was 53%.

49.2 percent in RCP. But yes, the disconnect between this president’s approval rating and the allegedly disastrous state of the US right now is striking, isn’t it? Each of these narratives speaks to a constituency – but Obama’s is surely larger.

Then again, Obama is not up for re-election, is he?

9:47 p.m. Over to Mickey, former neo-liberal now backer of neo-fascism:

9:46 p.m. We’re now listening to what might be a Trey Parker/Matt Stone “America, Fuck Yeah!” country song. Without the wit or the melody.

9:42 p.m. I’m trying to find some pro-Trump tweets that aren’t dumb. Here’s the best we could find:

But again the massive discrepancy between this and actual policy is staggering. The platform proposes reparative therapy for gay kids, and the end of civil marriage rights. But Thiel is proud to be a Republican.

9:39 p.m. A reader writes:

Sure, I get it. I read the speech, Scary. Only not really. It’s Nightmare on Elm Street scary. Giant rickety wooden rollercoaster scary. Charity Haunted House scary. Once the ride’s over, you think ‘OK I did that’ and you go on to the next thing.

It’s not real. I mean, this is the entire appeal of Trump. He’s show business. His campaign is literally a reality TV show. It’s ‘Joan Rivers wins Celebrity Apprentice.’ A certain number of unfortunates think it’s real and LOVE it, and certain others correctly find it horrifying, but most Americans aren’t even paying attention right now. Things are good. It’s summer and who wants to be inside?

Please, be patient and have a little more respect for American voters. We love entertainment. But please remember that, when we last confronted the choices in front of us, we voted (again) for a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama.

I understand. I just worry.

9:37 p.m. “He befriends the bewildered.” True that.

9:32 p.m. Thiel’s speech was pathetic – although, of course, I share his loathing for identity politics. But does he realize he is speaking to the biggest white identity-politics confab? His only argument for electing a neo-fascist as president is that only Trump sees the U.S. economy as thoroughly in the toilet as Thiel believes it is. Here’s the argument:

I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform. But fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline. And nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.

That’s an argument? It’s a free association. And Thiel is a disgrace.

9:15 p.m. Waiting for Peter Thiel. I have to say his appearance at this fascist hate-fest is sickening.

9:08 p.m. A reader writes:

Facts don’t matter, fear does. Note if one is educated, the fear level is flat or has dropped according to the Gallup poll, so the GOP panders to the uneducated people’s fear.

8:58 p.m. After seven straight years of job growth, record stock prices, extraordinary technological innovation, and 4.9 percent unemployment, this is how Trump will describe the economy tonight: “our roads and bridges are falling apart, our airports are in Third World condition, and 43 million Americans are on food stamps.” This is summed up as “domestic disaster.”

I do not want to imply that I believe the economy is doing fine in terms of distribution. Globalization has hurt the working classes, while rewarding so many others, not least around the world. This real question needs a serious answer. But what Trump is offering is straight out of the worst part of the 1930s: protectionism, ethno-nationalism, scapegoating, and big (if chronically insolvent) government. What feasibly can be done to help? Whoever answers that question most persuasively will own the future of politics in this country. But if Clinton doesn’t have an honest answer, Trump will offer a fantasy one.

8:43 p.m. Why will the speech work? Because it manages to frame the narrative – using false or misleading data – by making this a change election. He somehow spins every disconcerting piece of news at home and abroad into a compelling social imaginary of chaos, decline and frustration. He blames Obama for everything bad and gives no credit for anything good. If you know nothing but feel insecure, the picture he paints will be electrifyingly persuasive.

The thing about strongmen is that they are prepared to tell lies democratic politicians shrink from; they show no respect for the constitutional order or for enduring institutions; they lie purely to advance the most hyperbolic version of the truth and than cast themselves as magical solution-artists. The speech is a master-class in channeling resentment and anxiety.

If you wonder what it was like in the 1930s for ordinary people to flock to demagogues, tune in tonight. America has thrown up an extremely talented one. I fear that Hillary Clinton has no idea what is about to hit her.

8:37 p.m. I agree with Frum:

8:32 p.m. Post-fact politics: Marsha Blackburn is saying that taxes have gone up and 401(k)s have been collapsing. The lies on this podium are raining down.

8:28 p.m. Post-fact politics:

No one should under-estimate the power of fear. But surely this fear-mongering leaves an opening for Clinton. She can surely respond to Trump with FDR. We are, in fact, in a kind of 1930s moment. It’s fear vs hope. Fear is winning. I wish I had more confidence in the Clintons to pull off the ethos of FDR. We simply have to hope they can.

8:18 p.m. We have to answer this core question: how is it that liberal democracy in America is now flirting with strongman, ethno-nationalist authoritarianism? What happened to the democratic center?

It seems to me that the right bears the hefty majority of responsibility, moving from principled opposition to outright nullification of a presidency, trashing every important neutral institution, and now bad-mouthing the country they hope to “govern.” But the left’s abandonment of empiricism and liberalism – its rapid descent into neo-Marxist dogma, its portrayal of American history as a long unending story of white supremacy, its coarse impugning of political compromise and incrementalism, its facile equation of disagreement with bigotry – has also played a part. Liberal democracy needs liberal norms and manners to survive. Which is why it is now on life-support.

In between, moderate Christianity, once a unifying cultural fabric creating a fragile civil discourse, has evaporated into disparate spirituality on one side and fundamentalist dogma on the other, leaving us with little in the center to hold us morally together. I look out at this wasteland and see, in part, what Ross Douthat sees:

8:12 p.m. The comic edge to the ongoing tragedy:

8:06 p.m. On CNN, Paul Manafort just dismissed the crime statistics as an FBI fiction. He returns to the theme that “people don’t feel safe.” The FBI’s crime data, going back decades, is now suspect because of the email investigation. Let that sink in. The FBI’s meticulous investigation of the email scandal, and Comey’s judicious description of why charges were not filed. are being described by the Trump campaign as criminally corrupt.

They smear core institutions integral to liberal democracy. They dismiss empirical reality. And they play more nakedly on rank fear than any candidate in American history.

8:00 p.m. Like many others, I read Trump’s draft acceptance speech a couple of hours ago. It’s a remarkable piece of oratory, cannily crafted, framed by massive lies and distortions, crammed with incoherence, and yet, I’m afraid to say, scarily potent. It invents a reality – that the U.S. is in a state of chaos, lawlessness and soaring crime; that the world is careening toward catastrophe – and then makes a classic argument for a strongman to set things straight.

This is a very new departure for politics in a liberal democracy. We’ve never heard an appeal from a major party platform to junk traditional democratic norms, and cede power to a new tyrant, whose magical powers will somehow cause almost every problem in the country to disappear. In this election, the very basis of liberal democracy is on the ballot. The fears I expressed last May about the popularity of tyranny in a late-democracy have, I’m afraid, only been fanned by events since.

The speech is entirely about fear, to be somehow vanquished by a single man’s will to power. Its core message is what America was founded to resist. Its success would be an abolition of the core promise of this country for two centuries – that self-government is incompatible with the rule by the whims and prejudices and impulses of a man on a white horse.

It can happen here. It is happening here. No election has been more important in my lifetime.

Andrew Sullivan Liveblogs the RNC, Night 4