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Live from RNC: Christie's 'lock her up' speech showed what could have been

AKRON, Ohio -- The Republican National Convention, now in day three and rolling toward a prime time speech by vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, has so far shown just how much Donald Trump's pugnacious style has filtered through the GOP.

Last night's program, ostensibly dedicated to the economy, right in the Republican policy wheelhouse, included little talk about taxes or regulations, and boos for one of the party's chief legislators, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The expected praise for free enterprise and job creators was instead replaced by the only thing Republicans seem to agree on right now: hatred of Hillary Clinton.

Chris Christie played prosecutor-in-chief, delivering the kind of speech you imagine he'd have fired out had he been Trump's VP pick (and incidentally, seeming to send a none-too-subtle message to Trump: I'm better at this stuff than Pence).

Over and over he laid out his case against "Hillary Rodham Clinton," asking the crowd: guilty or not guilty? "Guilty" they lustily responded, followed by chants of "lock her up!" Ben Carson later connected Clinton to Lucifer.

Amid the rage, even McConnell -- who vastly boosted GOP power and helped stymie President Obama by orchestrating a take-over of the Senate -- was booed. House Speaker Paul Ryan, one of the party's foremost thinkers on economics and the budget, delivered a speech full of conservative philosophy and a coherent economic message. But his high-minded approach -- "Democracy is a series of choices ... It still comes down to a contest of ideas" -- seemed woefully out of step with the mood of the convention.

His own discomfort with Trump, and faith instead in Congress, remained evident. He didn't call for the party to rally behind their nominee, but urged convention-goers to elect " a conservative governing majority."

The crowd applauded - but the real fire was saved for Christie as he returned to the role that first brought him to prominence: prosecutor.

His attacks certainly worked well in the building, but also raised a question: do the hard-edged assaults on Clinton expand Trump's appeal beyond the crowd in Cleveland? Or do they just offer cheap rhetorical calories to people voters already firmly in the GOP camp?

On CNN, Michael Smerconish gave a critical reaction to Christie's speech, saying it felt like a Salem witch trial.

Two nights of the convention, one based on national security, the other on the economy, have both really had one focus -- tearing down Clinton. The speeches have painted a grim, dangerous America. There have been few words about what makes Trump a good pick for president.

At what point does Trump offer his vision of a better way?

¬-- Hillary Rodham Clinton. Barack Hussein Obama. Republican convention speakers are like your parents: you know they're really mad when they invoke your middle name.

-- If anyone did reach beyond the GOP base, it was Trump's children, Donald Trump Jr. and Tiffany, both Penn grads. Tiffany Trump recounted report cards her father marked up. Trump Jr. gave one of the most well-received speeches of the entire event, and immediately sparked questions about whether he'd run for office one day. For a man who has often presented himself as a blustery caricature, the speeches by Trump's children added a softer, more human side to the candidate.

-- Oops of the day goes to Nevada's Republican state chairman Michael McDonald who, in announcing his delegation's votes, proclaimed Las Vegas the country's "most entertaining capital city." Except that Nevada's capital is Carson City.

-- The "lock her up" cries still resonate this morning. Many critics have long believed the Clintons are shady, and public polls show massive distrust of Hillary Clinton, across a wide swath of voters. But the cries to not just defeat her, but jail her, left me wondering if this was simply a natural evolution of scorched-earth politics or if we had crossed a new line. Even some Republicans felt uneasy. On Twitter, Sen. Jeff Flake wrote, "We can make the case that she shouldn't be elected without jumping the shark."

.@HillaryClinton now belongs in prison? C'mon. We can make the case that she shouldn't be elected without jumping the shark.

-- The best insight so far: Perhaps the most succinct summary of this year's campaign came from a pedi-cab driver who gave a ride to my colleague Tom Fitzgerald. Asked how business has been, the driver said it wasn't as great as the pre-convention hype said it would be. But the driver was philosophical about it: he said he had learned it was better to have low expectations -- that way he's never disappointed.

-- Your move, Pence: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was seen as the safe, if unexciting, choice as Trump's running mate. Christie last night showed what could have been with his barn-burner speech. Can Pence escape that shadow with his own performance?

-- Trump arrives: Trump has already appeared twice at the convention -- he introduced his wife, Melania, on Monday and gave a video address Tuesday. Today, reports are he'll arrive by helicopter on Cleveland's lakefront. I imagine a few cameras will be there.

-- How far will Cruz go? Ted Cruz, who finished second in the Republican primary, has long taken fire from fellow Republicans for putting his own ambition ahead of the party good. And word is that while he'll be a prime time speaker tonight, the Texas senator won't actually endorse Trump. Cruz still holds sway with many on the right who question whether they can trust Trump to adhere to conservative policy. How far does Cruz go in actually lending his weight to Trump's campaign?

-- Inside the speech controversy:
The two writers who drafted Melania Trump's Monday speech "were not aware of how significantly the speech had been changed until they saw Ms. Trump deliver it on television " the New York Times reports in the most in-depth account yet of how the controversial address was put together.

-- Despite some tense scenes, the protests outside the convention were again almost entirely peaceful, the Inquirer's Aubrey Whelan reports.

-- How do you manage the VIP section at an event where almost everyone thinks they're very important? "Nobody has an ego in politics," said the man in charge, "so it's pretty easy." Meet David Urban, the longtime Pennsylvania operative who has taken on a key political role for Trump and is managing much of the convention behind the scenes. It helps, friends say, that he was once Arlen Specter's chief-of-staff and a Gulf War veteran.

-- Kasich 2020? The Ohio governor has been a prominent presence outside Quicken Loans Arena, but won't go in to actually support Trump there (he also backed out of a planned speech to the Pennsylvania delegation Wednesday morning, citing a scheduling conflict). The Inquirer's Tom Fitzgerald looks at whether Kasich is laying the groundwork for another run.

-- From Clinton to Lucifer: How did Carson make the connection between Clinton and Satan? It hinges on her 1969 college thesis, The New York Daily News explains.

-- Toomey inches closer to Trump: Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) isn't in Cleveland and hasn't endorsed Trump yet, but he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he was moving closer to doing so.

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