The second night of the Republican National Convention was supposed to be built around the theme of "Make America Work Again." In other words, after Monday night's speeches built around immigration and national security ("Make America Safe Again") this was the night that Republicans were going to focus on jobs and the economy.
But the primetime speeches last night featured essentially nothing in the way of plans to create jobs or grow the economy. Several of the speeches failed to mention jobs or the economy at all. Instead, they focused on trashing Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, who they portrayed as criminal and possibly a worshipper of Satan. In doing so, they offered further evidence that the Republican party has totally given up on even the pretense of engagement with domestic policy.
The opening speech by convention co-chair Sharon Day was an extended broadside against Hillary Clinton, with a handful of shots at her husband, former president Bill Clinton thrown in. Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White said that Donald Trump "supports businesses of all sizes" and "make it possible for them to grow and succeed," but had no evidence for this assertion. His idea, basically, was that Donald Trump likes businesses. That…is not a plan.
Similarly, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison spent most of his speech bashing Hillary Clinton for her dubious use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State. That's a fair criticism, but it has nothing to do with jobs or the economy. The closest Hutchison came to a domestic policy plan was a declaration that "we need a President that values the role of the states, will destroy ISIS, and jump-start our economy." That's, like, 12 percent of a plan. Maybe. If I'm being charitable.
Hutchison was followed by Arkansas Lt. Gov. Leslie Rutledge, who also spent most of her time declaring that Hillary Clinton is really and truly the worst. (Sample line: "That woman has more baggage than Chicago O'Hare.") Rutledge noted, almost as an aside, that "we"—presumably Republicans—"care about jobs, the economy and national security," and left at that. The GOP cares about jobs and the economy! Caring, I will remind you, is also not a plan.
Rutledge was followed by former U.S. Attorney General who laid out a not-particularly-exciting but essentially accurate case against Hillary Clinton focused, again, on her email use. Regardless of the merits—and I think the merits of the case against Clinton are indeed quite strong—this seemed beside the point: Unless the GOP's jobs plan is built around creating work for a fairly small number of political hacks and lawyers, this is not going to make America work again.
After Rutledge, a waterproofing company owner and Donald Trump supporter from Brooklyn named Andy Wist spoke. He explained that actor Adam West, and not he, was Batman. Also, he liked Trump. That's pretty much it.
Sen. Ron Johnson came on to warn that Hillary Clinton was weak on terror. Chris Cox of the National Rifle Association's political arm warned that Hillary Clinton was weak on guns. Golfer Natalie Gulbis, currently ranked 492nd in the world, spoke about how Donald Trump encouraged her to think of herself not as an athlete, but as a "business person."
Senator Mitch McConnell, one of the GOP's most prominent sitting legislators and turtle look-a-likes, barely touched on anything like a jobs plan. The closest he came was saying that as president, Donald Trump would sign a bill allowing the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, and would allow Republicans to follow through with their promises to repeal Obamacare. (It's worth noting here that Trump's poor and wildly shifting understanding of health care policy—he has said positive things about single payer—leaves open a lot of questions about the sort of health care he might actually pursue as president.)
Even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, perhaps the Republican party's most successful and influential policy entrepreneur, had almost nothing specific to say, or even reference, about jobs and economic policy. He spent most of his speech asking—practically pleading—with the GOP to unite around Trump, because Hillary Clinton was unacceptable. The same goes for Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, who spent the entirety of his speech acting as prosecutor and laying out an extended case against Hillary Clinton. Granted, I suppose this could be his job in a hypothetical Donald Trump administration.
Donald Trump, Jr. gave a speech that actually referenced several policies (Dodd Frank, school choice). There mere existence of references to specific legislation or policy areas made his speech the stand out address of the night, which, to be sure, is an extremely low bar. But references are not themselves plans or even the beginnings of plans; a president cannot legislate merely by acknowledging that policy exists.
Perhaps the best case that Trump would create jobs came from Kerry Woolard, who described how well Trump has run the winery she manages. It was still not much of a case: He pays attention, she said, and asks good questions. That is hardly a demonstration of Trump's economic policy acumen or how he would act as president. Also, according to its website, that winery "is not owned, managed or affiliated with Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization or any of their affiliates," and therefore may not be the best example.
You will not be surprised to hear that the rest of the speakers—including Trump's daughter Tiffany, neurosurgeon and failed presidential candidate Ben Carson, and soap opera star Kimberlin Brown—did not have much to say about creating jobs or boosting the economy either. Carson did, however, link Hillary Clinton to progressive activist guru Saul Alinsky, and note that Alinsky "acknowledges Lucifer."
Just so there's no confusion: None of these things are plans in the sense that offer or even suggest a set of specific, plausible, debatable steps that a president might take. That's what a plan is. A plan is not the end result you hope to achieve; it's a description of the particulars of how you intend to produce that result.
There are plenty of reasons to oppose Hillary Clinton, and although I would personally take a pass on the Alinsky/Lucifer connection, Republicans touched on more than a few of the good reasons to be wary of their Democratic rival. But that still totally fails to respond to respond to the essential policy question that was supposedly the topic of discussion for the evening. "Hillary Clinton is bad and should maybe be in jail" isn't a jobs plan—and there's little evidence that the Republican party under Trump has anything else in the works.
You can blame Trump, an unusually vacuous and unserious candidate, for some of this. But this tendency existed in Republican party politics existed long before before Trump arrived. The GOP has spent the last decade and half stubbornly refusing to engage with the basics of domestic policy, even on issues its members purport to prioritize, preferring Reaganite-mantras and anti-Obama slogans instead. Last night was proof that the GOP has wholly embraced a post-policy approach to politics, ceding the space entirely to Democratic opponents. We're all worse off for it.
(This post has been updated.)