You would think that a presidential campaign that humiliated itself this week with a plagiarism scandal would have picked a new and fresh message for its election effort.
But no. Donald Trump decided to “borrow” the presidential message of Richard Nixon, who used it successfully in 1968: law and order.
A party that could not run a four-day convention without turning it into a three-ring circus of controversy, confusion and commotion is now going to run the United States with an iron fist.
“We will be a country of generosity and warmth,” Trump promised in his acceptance speech Thursday night, “but we will also be a country of law and order.”
He sounded much more enthusiastic about the latter than he did the former — especially when it came to describing Hillary Clinton’s alleged “terrible, terrible” crimes, which he did at some length.
Nixon used urban riots and racist fears to gain voter support. Trump has found a new enemy: “Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”
“Roaming free” is the kind of vivid, fearful imagery that one needs to sell this kind of campaign. Expect more of it in the weeks ahead.
The speech, whose transcript was footnoted on every page, promised action so swift that not a minute of the Trump administration would be wasted: “I have a message for all of you,” Trump said. “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon — and I mean very soon — come to an end. Beginning on Jan. 20 of 2017, safety will be restored.”
Trump promised that he would save us from “the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”
Tough stuff. But no childish “Crooked Hillary” or other name-calling. And in fact, Trump praised the crowd when it cheered his promise to protect LGBTQ citizens. This was the new Trump — who knows how long it will last? — of discipline and dignity.
He is so proud of his new role that he put it in all capital letters in the transcript: “I AM YOUR VOICE.”
“Nobody knows the system better than me,” Trump said. The crowd laughed, and he did a little guilty shrug. “Which is why I alone can fix it. I have seen firsthand how the system is rigged against our citizens, just like it was rigged against Bernie Sanders; he never had a chance. But his supporters will join our movement because we will fix his biggest single issue: trade deals that strip our country of its jobs.”
Trump is going to need Sanders Democrats and socialists and libertarians and vegetarians and every other kind of group he can find — because he is not going to get minorities and it is questionable whether he will get suburban white women.
And losing those two groups could lose him the election.
So Trump never strayed far from the message that he believes will get him almost all groups.
“I will restore law and order to our country,” he said. “Believe me. … In this race for the White House, I am the Law and Order candidate.” (The capital letters were in the transcript.)
His ban on Muslim immigrants has been disguised, but it is there: “We must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place. We don’t want them in our country!”
“Anyone who endorses violence, hatred or oppression is not welcome in our country and never, ever will be,” Trump said.
That, however, may be a problem for all those who have chanted that Hillary Clinton should be hanged or locked up or, as one Trump delegate said this week on talk radio, “put in the firing line and shot for treason.”
But that is not the kind of violence Trump is worried about.
“We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities!” Trump thundered as the crowd roared.
“We are going to be considerate and compassionate to everyone. But my greatest compassion will be for our own struggling citizens.”
“USA! USA! USA!” the crowd chanted.
And Trump interrupted his own speech to chant back at the crowd: “USA! USA! USA!”
Nobody upstages The Donald.
Ben Ginsberg, who has become the Yoda of the Republican Party, told MSNBC early in the convention that the public will compare the enthusiasm of the Republican delegates this week with the Democratic delegates next week.
“So we have to make sure those delegates on the floor show a lot of enthusiasm in front of the cameras and our speakers whip them into a frenzy,” Ginsberg said.
Frenzy they got — a little too much frenzy maybe. Threats against Clinton became the theme of the convention, and the media featured little else for four days.
But now, at the end, came Trump’s chance to make the convention about his favorite topic: Trump. It took him an incredibly long hour and 15 minutes, but he was well-prepared.
For years, Trump did not exist except as the host of a reality TV show, a casino owner and a wheeler-dealer builder. But he wanted something more.
Arthur Miller, in his great “Death of a Salesman,” has his protagonist, Willy Loman, say, “And that’s the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked!”
Trump had to be liked — by the nation — to be a real success in his own mind. Money was not enough. He knew that anybody could amass money. He wanted to amass adoration.
The New York Times on Thursday had an interview with Trump by two reporters, including Maggie Haberman. Part of it went:
Haberman: What do you think people will take away from this convention? What are you hoping?
Trump: From the convention? The fact that I’m very well-liked.
Trump may not have ever studied Arthur Miller, but he knows the life of a salesman. He has been selling himself all his life.
“And when you are in that hall,” Trump told Haberman, “and you see those people, like yesterday, my daughter called up, she said, ‘Dad, I’ve never seen it. It’s total love.'”
Total love is all he wants. And the proof of getting it will be the presidency.
When Trump finished, balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling of the giant hall.
Outside, the vendors still sold their goods, including a bumper sticker that read, “Giant Meteor — 2016 — Just End It Already.”
We’re trying. Just give us 110 days or so.