Rebranding Hillary Clinton: RNC Diary, Day 2

Media Guy Simon Dumenco Reports From Cleveland on 'Make America Work Again' Night

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waves to the crowd as he approaches the stage to deliver an anti-Clinton speech on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waves to the crowd as he approaches the stage to deliver an anti-Clinton speech on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

"Hide your badges," a motorist at a red light helpfully yelled out to a group of us standing at the intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 9th Street in downtown Cleveland on Tuesday afternoon, "so you're not a target!"

My fellow pedestrians, judging from the badges hanging from lanyards looped around their necks, were Republican National Convention delegates. (RNC press badges look different than delegate badges, but I still took the motorist's advice and tucked my credentials into my pocket.) They were heading to the Quicken Loans Arena, like I was.

Though the city and the estimated 50,000 visitors here for the RNC have been on edge for fear of convention-related violence, so far disturbances have been minimal. One notable bit of drama covered by the local media: On Tuesday morning a group of three protesters who snuck onto the grounds of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame engaged in an an act of unauthorized outdoor advertising: They hoisted a banner reading "DON'T TRUMP OUR COMMUNITIES" between two of the museum's flagpoles (firemen promptly arrived on the scene with a ladder truck to remove the signage and the police arrested the protesters).

And Tuesday afternoon, also on Euclid, I spotted a group of riot police on horseback -- possibly the same team I saw on Sunday -- blocking traffic. As on Sunday, I stood and watched for awhile, but nothing happened, and eventually the cops and their horses let traffic flow resume.

As I noted in my Monday dispatch, the Quicken Loans Arena, aka the Q, where the RNC is being held, is a fortress, isolated from the rest of downtown Cleveland by blocked-off streets, temporary concrete barriers and fences and security checkpoints staffed by uniformed Secret Service officers. But by the end of the second night of the RNC, I was thinking that the buffer zone created around the arena might be as much for the protection of Cleveland residents -- who vote overwhelming Democratic -- as for RNC delegates. The riskiest thing you could be wearing in downtown Cleveland late Tuesday, as thousands of conventiongoers exited the arena and poured onto the streets, was a Hillary Clinton campaign T-shirt.

The RNC has branded each of the four nights of the convention, and the remarks from speakers on each night are meant to generally relate to the designated theme. Tuesday night was "Make America Work Again" (Monday was "Make America Safe Again"; Wednesday night will be "Make America First Again" and Thursday "Make America One Again"). But in truth the predominant activity engaged in by many of the RNC speakers has been a vigorous, full-throated rebranding exercise -- of Hillary Clinton.

The message that reverberated through the Q Tuesday night is that Hillary Clinton is not only untrustworthy and a liar -- "Crooked Hillary," per Donald Trump's nickname for her -- but a dangerous, traitorous criminal on the loose who must be stopped.

Right before the primetime block of the RNC's big show, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out one of its trademark doom-and-gloom fundraising emails with the subject line "TRAGIC loss." It began,

Are you watching the Convention right now?

We are. And we're freaking out.

Donald Trump just received enough delegates to officially be the Republican nominee for President.

If DCCC staffers were freaking out at 7:43 p.m., a couple of hours later they must have been absolutely melting down as speaker after speaker devoted the bulk of their podium time to attacking Hillary Clinton.

In the case of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has made it clear he's no fan of Trump -- just last month he told Bloomberg Politics that "It's pretty obvious he [Trump] doesn't know a lot about the issues" and "I object to a whole series of things that he's said, vehemently object to them" -- trashing Hillary made a lot more sense than attempting some sort of half-hearted praise of the Republican presidential nominee.

But when Chris Christie (a Trump basher turned Trump team member) took the stage at 9:38 p.m. ET, and said "Let's do something fun tonight," the crowd was more than ready to play along with what he had planned: a mock trial of Hillary Clinton that gave the Q the aura of a game show crossed with a lost installment of "The Hunger Games."

By this point in the evening, I'd wandered away from the designated area for the press in Level 5 of the Q and was sitting among regular attendees. As Christie repeatedly laid out the case for the prosecution of Clinton for her various crimes and then asked the crowd "Is Hillary Clinton guilty or not guilty?," an oddly cheerful roar of "Guilty!" filled the Q.

The young woman sitting next to me almost dropped her bag of popcorn because she was inspired to raise a fist and pump the air to each syllable of "Guilty!" And she actually put her popcorn bag down when the crowd spontaneously started hollering "Lock her up!" so that she could cup both hands around her mouth, megaphone-style, as she joined in on the chant.

A confession: I was eating popcorn too (an 85-ounce bag at the Republican Roadhouse concessions stand was a relative bargain at $4).

What can I say? It was that sort of night -- and that kind of show.

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. He's reporting from both the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

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