Cleveland is demanding our attention. From the Republican National Convention to the Cavaliers’ NBA championship, the Indians’ recent dominance to a surprising tech scene, we’re thinking about the city more than ever. This week,The Ringer is exploring why Cleveland matters.
At the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night, we learned that Hillary Clinton — at least by extension — thinks of Lucifer as a role model. We learned that Clinton is “guilty” of various crimes of poor judgment. (“Lock her up!” the crowd cheered.) That Clinton shamed women whom Bill “sexually abused.”
A liberal (like, say, me) might not recognize this portrait of Clinton, who seems like a tireless, if fairly uninspiring, worker bee. So I thought it would be interesting to ask Republicans gathered here what it is they hate about Hillary. Put the policy issues — abortion, the Keystone XL pipeline — aside. What do they hate about Hillary personally?
“Hate’s a big word,” said Kenny Welch, a mental health nurse’s aide from Wadsworth, Ohio. “I don’t hate many things in life, peoplewise. It’s the way I was raised. But” — he thought of Hillary — “to an extent, yes.”
Welch is a middle-aged man with a salt-and-pepper goatee. On Wednesday, he was wearing a “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt and had a “Benghazi Matters!” button pinned to his chest. His left calf had a tattoo of a patriotic eagle; his right had a tattoo of Chief Wahoo.
At first, Welch said, he was open-minded about the election. He went to both Clinton and Trump rallies in Ohio. Clinton arrived almost 90 minutes late. Welch took the gesture to mean that Clinton felt entitled. “Just her demeanor, making everybody wait,” he said. “She wasn’t very personable.”
“The Clintons, they’re owed this,” he continued. “‘I’m entitled to this.’ … They think, ‘We’re better than everybody else.’” To Welch, the fact that Hillary sometimes has trouble connecting with “regular people” means that she doesn’t care about regular people. The critique tracked with Scott Baio’s blast from the podium Monday night: “a woman who somehow feels entitled to the presidency, that she is somehow owed it.”
Welch said he also hated the stench of Clinton scandal. “What’s the … ?” He groped for the name of the ’90s conservative obsession. “Not Watergate.”
“Whitewater. … Benghazi. Things like that.” In other words: Hillary is corrupt.
Clint Day, an alternate delegate from Georgia, doesn’t hate Hillary. “I do not hate anybody,” he said, firmly, outside his hotel in Playhouse Square. Day merely found Hillary’s character to be deficient. “I think she’s got a spiritual problem.”
How so? I asked.
“I believe that she’s not surrendered her life,” he said. “She can say she’s a Christian and that type of thing. But she’s not walking in the fruit of the spirit. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” He ticked off the words from the Book of Galatians on his fingers. “I just don’t see that in her.”
Jody Rushton, a Texan who works with the National Federation of Republican Women, wasn’t shy about the h-word. “Oh, I hated that she allowed her husband to get away with what he got away with,” she said. “No self-respecting woman would do that.”
The idea that Bill’s philandering led to — or perhaps exposed — one of Hillary’s moral failings was echoed by Stephen Mayo, an alternate delegate from New York. “She’s smart enough to have made herself into a hero for that,” he said. “I think that’s a bit of a misidentification and misappropriation of victimhood.”
Mayo turned to the idea of Clinton’s lying. “I just think her ability to evade responsibility for the emails,” he said. “I know it’s very complex. I think if she’d just said, ‘I screwed up,’ I’d have forgiven her two years ago.”
Really — you’d have forgiven Hillary Clinton?
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s not important to me.” It’s reminiscent of the mantra around the Monica Lewinsky scandal: It’s not the sex, it’s the lying.
Mayo continued: “You could say, ‘Why doesn’t Donald Trump apologize?’”
Good question. Trump doesn’t apologize for anything.
“If you expect everything in the world from your government, you need a perfect entity,” Mayo explained. “Neither Hillary nor Trump is. If you expect only national defense and not screwing up our economy, it’s a much easier skill set.”
In other words, liberalism requires angels, while conservatism can tolerate a moral figure just this side of, well, Lucifer.
Gahan Haskins is a Trump volunteer from Manhattan. He came to Cleveland even though he didn’t get credentials to get into Quicken Loans Arena. “It’s like the guys on the boats at Normandy never got to meet General Patton,” he said with a sigh.
Haskins hates Clinton. What was her moral failing? “The personal corruption of the Clintons,” he said. “They’ve been in government forever. Forty years? It’s just the endless gravy train of governmental largesse.”
“I love terms limits,” he continued. “Oh, yes. I think that if you’ve been at the gravy train for 10 or 15 years you should be forced to leave the gravy train. Look at the Senate. Long-serving senators seem to grow like stalactites in caves. The longer they’re in, the less they seem responsive to the people. McConnell …”
Senator Mitch McConnell, I reminded him, was lustily booed in the arena by Republicans on Tuesday night.
“They’re all the same … these idiots,” he said. It hardly mattered whether you were a Republican or a Democrat. Eternal service, and the corruption endemic to it, was its own kind of moral failing.
It was a charge I heard a lot in Cleveland. “Frankly, we don’t need political dynasties in this country, anyway,” said Theresa Kosmoski, the president of the Texas Federation of Republican Women. “It’s time for the Clintons to retire.”
Her pal Jody Rushton said, “And isn’t it funny that they are the establishment now, which they have fought so hard against all their lives?”
“I think she displays a complete lack of judgment,” said Kosmoski. “A complete lack of judgment. Look what happened in Benghazi. She’s responsible for what happened in Benghazi. That was all her. And she lied to the American public. She lies about so many things to the American public you just can’t trust a word that comes out of her mouth.”
In Cleveland’s Public Square, the site of many of the protest marches this week, I met a tea partyer with the wonderful name of Howard Hellwinkel. (When I told Hellwinkel he must have been teased as a kid, he said, “I learned to fight when I was young.”)
About Hillary: “Her failings in her character are her ambitions. Her ambitions caused her to do things that were immoral.”
Of course, the portrait of an ambitious, church-avoidant, truth-indifferent, judgment-addled, entitled politician who — shall we say — has an expansive definition of traditional marriage sounds a lot like the other candidate in the race. (Trump can claim innocence to the charge of a long career in government.) Before he ran for president, Trump may have even accepted the critique.
But if you listen to speakers like Ben Carson and Chris Christie on the stage here, they hardly try to argue that Trump is morally superior. Their sole purpose is demonization, a sustained character assault that won’t be answered for another week. In the surrealist gallery that is the RNC, the portrait of Hillary hangs alone.