-- CLEVELAND –- The Republican National Convention got off to a raw, meandering, downbeat, and downright scary start –- a stunning and stark portrait of reasons to be fearful in America.
It was against that backdrop that Donald J. Trump made his early entrance at his own convention. Hours after the gathering threatened to unravel, and more than a full hour before the night would limp toward an end, Trump introduced his wife so she could help offer him up as the answer for a nation on edge.
“If you want someone to fight for you and your country, I can assure you, he’s the guy,” Melania Trump said, in a well-received speech that was a rare break from a night of insults and potential injuries. “Donald is, and always has been, an amazing leader. Now, he will go to work for you.”
Trump doesn’t do subtle. The first night of Trump’s convention was built around fear -– of illegal immigration, violence against police officers, terrorism, liberal activists and all manner of foreign enemies.
Above all, Trump made clear his campaign is about making the nation afraid of Hillary Clinton. She was accused of ignorance, incompetence, lying, and outright criminality -– up to and very much including blame for the deaths of four American in Benghazi.
The theme of the night -– “Make America Safe Again” –- is predicated, of course, on the presumption that the nation isn’t safe now. Outside events matter, after a string of incidents and attacks that have undermined the sense of security both at home and abroad.
Convention-goers finally got something close to unanimity when House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul asked, “are you safer than you were eight years ago?” (The "nos" won that roll call, very clearly.)
Conventions in the past have been about re-branding, a change of emphasis, or moves to the center. They tend to be upbeat, energetic affairs.
This, though, is the first Trump convention –- and seldom has any convention been as built around a single candidate as this one is.
To that end, Trump and his surrogates are making clear that their path to unity is lit by fear.
“There’s no next election. This is it,” former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said.
“This is the last stand on Earth,” said retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
Trumps entrance was its own production –- a lectern rising, lights depicting him in hazy silhouette, and Queen lyrics blaring, “No time for losers.”
“We’re gonna win. We’re gonna win so big,” Trump said on stage.