Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump points at his vice presidential choice Mike Pence, governor of Indiana, after Pence’s acceptance speech during the third-day session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Wednesday. (Mary Altaffer / AP)

8:51 p.m. PDT: What lesson should we take from the convention Wednesday night? That the Republicans may have a secret weapon in Mike Pence. Liberal pundits scoff at the suggestion that Donald Trump could gain the White House. Even Bernie Sanders has said Americans won’t elect a bigot. That may be true. But they may elect Mike Pence — warm, handsome, intelligent, serenely authoritative and convincingly sympathetic, and with ample governing experience — if they suspect Pence will run the executive. And Trump has said he’ll let his vice president author policy. Even establishment Republicans repulsed by Trump may feel it’s safe to return, and become even more supportive than before.

In short, Mike Pence appears to be everything conservatives love that Trump and other easily caricatured Republicans — Cruz, Rubio, Kasich — are not. Pence makes a Trump candidacy credible.

The Republican race was a farce until now. All the liberal jokes about the clownish, unelectable Trump are no longer funny. In this time of driving mass discontent, Hillary Clinton’s identification with the financial and political elite, combined with her own bumbling, make her an easy target for credible attacks. And Pence’s relative anonymity makes him a blank canvas on which desperate Americans can project their hopes.

If Republicans recapture the White House this November and consolidate their power under Pence’s sturdy leadership, don’t say Tom Frank, Robert Scheer and the progressive journalists didn’t warn you.

8:16 p.m. PDT: Boyarsky agrees that Pence is worth taking seriously:

I didn’t realize the importance of the speech by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican vice presidential nominee, until I read this item: The New York Times’ Robert Draper reported that when Trump [was] casting about for a running mate, he considered Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. His son, Donald Jr., told a Kasich adviser that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy. Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of? “Making America great again” was the casual reply. In other words, we were hearing a speech by the  man who will be the CEO if the Trump-Pence ticket wins.

This speech deserved attention. Indiana’s governor is known for his extreme right-wing views. In charge of the federal government, as Trump’s Cheney, he’d be able to push the federal bureaucracy and courts in that direction, taking care of important details, giving Trump — chairman of the board — time to do even greater mischief.

8:14 p.m. PDT: House Speaker Paul Ryan comes out swinging for Mike Pence, a “Reagan conservative,” and only mentions Trump’s name just before introducing Pence.

Pence comes out smiling with his hands in the air. He says he’s humbled to accept the nomination for vice president, but it looks and sounds as if he’s accepting the nomination for the presidency. He says he was raised “in the front row of the American Dream,” in a small town in Indiana near a cornfield. He “was raised to believe in hard work, and faith and family.” He is a Christian, a conservative and a Republican — “in that order.”

He asks everyone to look at his mother, a quiet-appearing elderly woman who stands and promptly gives him what appears to be a death stare. He says his most important title is spelled “D-A-D.” Pence is rousing. So far, Trump has fought this fight and won improbably, he says, but now he has backup. And he’ll have it in November. He’s easy and comfortable with all the GOP sound bites, and he delivers them with an attractive lilt. The crowd likes what it hears, and it’s easy to imagine that many conservative viewers would be ready to accept him as president, if events turned that way. It may not matter that Pence is unknown to most voters; he has four months to acquaint them.

Pence knows how to spin this against Clinton: “Americans can elect someone who literally personifies the failed establishment of Washington, D.C., or they can elect a leader,” he says. “It’s change versus the status quo; and my fellow Americans, when Donald Trump becomes president of the United States of America, the change will be huge.”

Listen to him:

“This nation will start winning again.”

“We will win the hearts and minds of the American people with an agenda for a stronger and more prosperous America.”

“There’s a lot of Americans out there who feel like Democrats have taken them for granted.”

“What unites us far exceeds anything that divides us as Americans.”

It’s hard to make fun of Mike Pence on the basis of his mannerisms. A bumbling Bush he is not. Nor a chilly Walker or a straining Rubio. His voice hits the ear as calm, assured and sympathetic.

He ends, to enormous applause, with firm, punctuated cries that America is “ready.” Trump briefly joins him onstage, giving his signature finger jab and smile; and, surprisingly, Pence is shown to be shorter than him.

7:37 p.m. PDT: Callista Gingrich spends many minutes praising her husband, who speaks next.

Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker, thanks Donald Trump for exciting Americans into joining the Republican party. He wants you to know “we’re at war with radical Islamists.” “We cannot allow ourselves to grow numb to these accumulating atrocities,” meaning any attack against American citizens and U.S. interests. Gingrich is a polished fearmonger; his speech is a relentless stream of citations of murder, mayhem and violence in Europe and the United States.

7:19 p.m. PDT: Boyarsky’s back:

Cast aside anger, said Ted Cruz; it’s “a standard we should expect of everybody.” Vote for the candidates you trust, he said; vote your conscience, vote for those who will be faithful to the Constitution. Nowhere did the defeated candidate for the Republican presidential nomination mention the name of Donald Trump. As Cruz finished his speech amid boos from the crowd, Trump himself entered the hall, waving, taking his seat in the family box. Cruz’s refusal to urge a vote for the man who beat him was the most significant event of the convention so far, of more lasting importance than the prospective first lady’s stolen words in her speech. 

Cruz was making it clear that he’s preparing for a Trump loss in November. He’ll spend the year campaigning like mad for Republican candidates, as Richard Nixon did during Barry Goldwater’s losing campaign in 1964. Nixon’s labor paid off when he won the nomination in 1968. Cruz sees that path open to him for 2020.

7:18 p.m. PDT: Eric Trump steps out of the recorded video and onto the stage and speaks of how, many months ago, his father sat him down and gave him “the talk,” meaning that he was going to run for president.

He actually laughs as he says that his father’s name is “synonymous with success.” He mimics his father’s effete palm wag almost perfectly.

Domestic infrastructure “is in disarray,” Eric Trump says. Again, it’s perfectly awful that while in power, Democrats have pursued policies that allow Republicans to associate themselves with such a cause, however disingenuously.

“Never have I been more proud to be my father’s son,” Eric Trump says. “[You’re my] hero,” “my best friend” and “the next president of the United States,” he says as his father smiles.

7:03 p.m. PDT: The Trump kids appear in a recorded video, against a soundtrack of swelling strings and tinkly chimes, to laud their father.

Next, a young country musician sings about electing Donald Trump and “finding a girl.” The harmonica playing is decent. The audio crackles again, suggesting that Ted Cruz’s voice box was not malfunctioning. The camera pans to Trump, who looks pleased.

6:56 p.m. PDT: Ted Cruz is out to antagonize Black Lives Matter protesters. He pays greasy homage to a police officer killed during the attack on police in Dallas earlier this month, saying the officer died defending the rights of protesters who “scorned” him.

“America is more than just a land mass between two oceans,” Cruz says, awing audiences. “Freedom matters,” he adds.

“Government decrees and the people obey” and this is wrong, Cruz declares. (Except when women want to freely determine the condition of their own bodies by getting an abortion.)

“Obama exports jobs and imports terrorists. Enough is enough. I’m here to tell you there is a better vision for our future. A return to freedom.” That includes the freedom to avoid taxation, and — there it is — “freedom means that every human life is precious and must be protected.”

Cruz is right when he says the American public is rejecting the establishment, as the British public did when it recently voted to leave the European Union, and that elected representatives had better listen. Unfortunately, Democrats are electing to let Republicans raise the populist banner in this election.

But he’s wrong when he casts Republicans as having been in the vanguard in the struggle for racial justice in the middle of the 20th century. Remarkable.

The audio briefly distorts. Or Cruz’s human voice simulator briefly shorted out. Cruz isn’t a bad orator, as tone and cadence go. He has a knack for banging out the platitudes as the audience applause grows. He must have good programmers.

6:33 p.m. PDT: Lynne Patton, vice president of the Eric Trump Foundation, which raises money to help terminally ill children, comes dangerously close to saying “Black Lives Matter,” stating that “historically, black lives haven’t mattered,” and saying that LGBT, blue (meaning police officers) and other lives matter. The applause is not large.

She ends by saying she is proud of her African-American heritage and she supports Trump not “in spite” of her “black skin,” but because of it. Why? She knows the generosity of the Trump family firsthand, she says.

6:24 p.m. PDT: Railing against “Washington insiders,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says “America deserves better” a bunch of times. “Hillary Clinton is the ultimate liberal Washington insider,” he says. “If she were any more on the inside, she’d be in prison.”

Walker yells a lot and doesn’t vary his tone. Someone should tell him he’s speaking into a microphone.

He brags about his long, successful attack on “big” organized labor, meaning teachers and other public workers, which he claims ran his state and whose attacks on him he repulsed three times.

6:12 p.m. PDT: Oilman Harold Hamm, known for his leading role in the use of fracking in the Bakken shale formation, says Trump will bring America to energy independence, which Hillary Clinton would “eliminate.” He speaks about doubling U.S. oil production, never mind the carbon-induced destabilization of the earth’s climate, which is not as great a problem as Islamic terrorism, he says.

Almost on the verge of tears, he says his first memories were of picking cotton barefoot. At age 20, he left home to make something of himself, with very few items in his possession, among them a truck and a phone.

5:58 p.m. PDT: Kentucky state legislator Ralph Alvarado introduces himself as the first Hispanic elected to his state’s Assembly. He likes entrepreneurship, work for work’s sake, God, law and order, and the American Dream. President Obama is out to restrict religious freedom and access to guns, he says. This election is “a decision about America going up or America going down.” He addresses his Latino peers in Spanish, showing that Republicans know they at least have to appear to care about minorities.

After he speaks, the crowd dances to a funky jazz number.

5:46 p.m. PDT: Eileen Collins, the first woman to command a space shuttle, spoke in favor of space exploration, noting that five years have passed since the U.S. launched its last manned space shuttle mission.

Notably, she did not endorse Trump. CNN talking heads remarked on it and Business Insider reported:

Her speech, according to prepared text distributed by the Republican National Committee, was supposed to end with her saying, “We need leadership that will make America first again. That leader is Donald Trump.”

Instead, she simply said, “We need leadership that will make America great again,” and then moved on to thanking the audience, without mentioning Trump even once in her speech.

5:37 p.m. PDT: Truthdig’s Bill Boyarsky is back with commentary. Here’s his first take on the proceedings:

The Republican National Convention delegates must have been watching their bad reviews on cable television (not Fox) which have been portraying them as unenthusiastic deadheads who leave the sessions earlier than fans leave Dodger baseball games. Tonight, at least as I watched on C-Span, they cheered like mad. Maybe it was speaker Laura Ingraham, the conservative talk show host who is also a good public speaker. She pointed up to the press galleries — “my friends” — and told the reporters of their shortcomings. Trump, not journalists, “dared to call out the phonies, the fraud, the corruption that has gone on too long.” For a moment, the place actually looked and sounded like a political convention. But the next speaker was a business associate of Trump’s who quieted the audience with his account of various real estate business. Time to go out for a hot dog and a beer.

5:33 p.m. PDT: Here’s Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney general. After the massacre at the LGBT nightclub Pulse in Orlando earlier this summer, CNN’s Anderson Cooper grilled Bondi on her record of opposition to gay rights:

Bondi is happy to announce that Donald Trump is a person who thinks terrorists should die.

5:26 p.m. PDT: Next to take the stage is Phil Ruffin, whom the first result on a Google search describes as an “American businessman” whose “interests lie largely in casinos, greyhound racing tracks, oil production, convenience stores, and real estate.” Ruffin lives in Las Vegas. Donald Trump is a great businessman whose word is better than a contract, he says. “He’s tough, he’s smart, he always pays his bills promptly,” he adds. And “he wants to do the same thing for the country.”

5:21 p.m. PDT: The Democrats’ answer to the nation’s problems is to nominate a woman who helped orchestrate the decline of the nation, Ingraham says. It’s an idea many left-wingers won’t disagree with. While discussing the news media, her preferred style is hortatory. “Do your job!” she shouts, adding that the reason Donald Trump won the Republican nomination is that he called out corruption where the press wouldn’t.

5:15 p.m. PDT: After burnishing her credentials as a mother, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham delivers a snide, winding lecture, full of barbs for Democrats, about “respect,” by which she seems to mean respect for authority. Former Republican President Ronald Reagan “is watching us today,” she says, and with the arrival of Donald Trump, the wait for the restoration of Reagan’s project — the total right-wingification of the country — is over.

5:04 p.m. PDT: “This is the year we get to fire the politicians. Who better to let the politicians know ‘You’re fired’ than Donald Trump?” Florida governor and longtime professional skeleton impersonator Rick Scott sets the tone for the third evening of the Republican National Convention.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

10:41 a.m. PDT: Welcome to Day 3 of the Republican National Convention at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. Wednesday’s theme is “Make America First Again.” The following has been provided by the Republican National Committee, published on TownHall:

America has always been an exceptional nation. Our Founding Fathers created a system of government that has protected our liberty, allowed American ingenuity to flourish, and lifted people out of poverty by creating the conditions for opportunity and prosperity. Unfortunately, years of bad policies and poor leadership have weakened our position in the world. Under a Trump administration, America will once again be a beacon of progress and opportunity.

Last night’s “theme” was largely abandoned to make way for relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton, so time will tell if the speakers stick to making America “first again.” You can catch up on our Day 1 coverage here and our Day 2 coverage here. Also be sure to take a look at our multimedia dispatches from outside of the convention hall, provided by award-winning photojournalist Michael Nigro.

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