After Night Two of the GOP convention, I wrote:
During [Chris] Christie’s speech, the crowd frequently chanted “lock her up” — “her” being Hillary Clinton, of course. It was jarring to hear such a rallying cry, however justified, at a major party convention.
How did this play to the audience outside the convention hall? Did the delegates sound bloodthirsty? Maybe. But remember that a clear majority of Americans believe Hillary should have been indicted.
Naturally, Clinton supporters have seized on the “lock her up chant.” The Washington Post editorial board sniffs “Democracies don’t lock up opponents.”
That’s true in general. But if politicians commit crimes, they sometimes get locked up. The Obama Justice Department tried its best to lock up former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell.
Many convention delegates believe that Hillary Clinton has committed crimes. So, apparently, do most Americans. James Comey’s presentation showed that Hillary violated the literal terms of at least one criminal statute but, for technical reasons, Comey didn’t think she should be prosecuted under it.
Clinton can’t be “locked up” without an indictment and a conviction, of course. But “indict her, try her, and then lock her up” won’t work as a chant. Nor will it fit on a hat.
Are the optics of the “lock her up” chant damaging the GOP? I don’t know. But it seems unlikely that voters are going to be influenced by what folks wearing funny hats are shouting, especially when the sentiment expressed is not entirely inconsistent with what must voters feel.
However, it’s different, I think, when it comes to the candidates. In my view, Mike Pence was wise last night to ignore, rather than play to, the “lock her up” chants.
Tonight Donald Trump has a big opportunity. When the chants begin, he should say something like: “This isn’t about locking Hillary up; it’s about defeating her in November.” Or, better still: “This is about making sure Hillary doesn’t get to handle classified information ever again.”
By taking the high road, Trump could help dispel the fear of many that he has authoritarian tendencies. He could appear unexpectedly presidential.
Will Trump take advantage of this opportunity? I have trouble imagining that he will; when has he taken the high road? But perhaps Trump will at least resist the urge to egg the “lock her up” chanters on.
That doesn’t seem like to much to ask of him.