Editorial: GOP convention did little to reassure doubters

The floor of the Quicken Loans Arena is being swept, taxis are shuttling bleary-eyed conventioneers to Hopkins International and the 2016 Republican convention is over.

Moderate to moderately conservative Republicans in the suburbs are left to consider the state of the party and the party's nominee. What did we learn from four nights?

The Cleveland convention boiled down to three themes - that Hillary Clinton is unfit to be commander-in-chief, glowing testimonials to Donald J. Trump's character, and - as amply evidenced in an emotional speech by the nominee Thursday - fear.

It could have been much more. Instead, it was a lost opportunity, a show that played well inside the convention hall but offered little to hopeful Republicans outside it.

On the elevator of rhetoric targeting Clinton, there was apparently no bottom floor. And while Trump's family spoke eloquently - and seemed truly heartfelt - in their testimonials, there was little else to reassure moderate Republicans that the 2016 election will be built on values they care about as much as on the hubris of the standard-bearer. Last night's speech, for example, mentioned his running mate, Mike Pence, exactly once.

That's not going to appeal to moderates who are looking for policy and direction, and who might be uncomfortable with Clinton. After all, there are alternatives - the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is looking more appealing to those who lean conservative; and for the more socially progressive there is Clinton and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

There will be 3½ more months of campaigning, but at present "Make America Great Again" is a headline without any corresponding bullet points. Trump's convention was a busted opportunity to show Americans that beneath the bluster and disturbing regard he holds for the world's strongmen - Vladimir Putin, the Chinese leaders who threw back the Tiananmen Square demonstration, Saddam Hussein - there is a plan that all Republicans could get behind, one that promises more good jobs, raises the level of education and economy and finds common ground among blue, black and all manner of lives.

There was precious little of that. Make America Work Again - the theme of the second night - instead will be remembered for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie auditioning for U.S. Attorney General and Ben Carson equating Clinton with Lucifer. Trump's speech on Thursday, although galvanizing, was fear-mongering of the highest degree - and yet offered no plan for addressing the ills it delineated.

The formerly "regular" Republicans, like Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, were in the house, with speeches directed less to the delegates on the floor and more to those of us watching at home. Between lines of dull oratory, they seemed to be trying to reassure us there are still adults in the room who can somehow rein this guy in.

It rang hollow. This was, above all else, Trump's show. Republicans passed up a singular opportunity to reassure doubters and broaden the appeal of their party, leaving a heavy responsibility on the remainder of the presidential campaign to demonstrate that - even if one accepts the dismal portrait of America Trump painted in his speech - it can deliver on any of his promises.

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