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‘Hillary for Prison’ T-shirt is best-seller in Cleveland

‘Hillary for Prison’ T-shirt is best-seller in Cleveland
© Greg Nash

CLEVELAND — Republicans in Cleveland may be divided, but convention-goers can seemingly agree on one thing: locking up Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGorsuch rejects Minnesota Republican's request to delay House race Biden leads Trump by 6 points in Nevada: poll The Memo: Women could cost Trump reelection MORE.

The most reliable rallying cry for the first two days of the Republican National Convention has been demands from speakers that the Democratic front-runner be thrown behind bars.

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Chants of “lock her up” have been loud and numerous, with many of them spurred on by speakers behind the convention podium.

But the frequency and frenzy for imprisoning Clinton has some Republicans squirming over the idea that politicians should insist their ideological opponents be thrown behind bars.

“We’re in a country where you’re innocent until proven guilty,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). “I don’t normally talk about putting someone in jail because I believe in our judicial system.”

A central theme of Trump’s campaign has been that Clinton is corrupt and cannot be trusted. But that message has taken a sharper edge in Cleveland, as those critiques morph into an intense desire for her arrest.

One vendor selling Trump-themed souvenirs across from the convention site said he had an obvious best seller: a T-shirt reading “Hillary for Prison 2016.”

With the convention only halfway done, he said he only had a handful left.

“We didn’t order enough,” said the vendor, who did not want to be identified.

The theme is prevalent not just outside the convention site, but inside as well.

Multiple speakers have called on Clinton to be thrown in prison.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie launched a mock trial from the speaker’s podium Tuesday evening, as he called on convention-goers to render a verdict on numerous Clinton critiques, ranging from her improper handling of government emails to her foreign policy as secretary of State.

After each attack, Christie, who mounted his own bid for the White House last year, polled the convention for a response. “Guilty!” was the loud reply.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOne of life's great mysteries: Why would any conservative vote for Biden? Trump excoriates Sasse over leaked audio Biden holds 8-point lead over Trump in Arizona: poll MORE (R-Ariz.), a frequent Trump critic who is not attending the convention, said he was fed up with that message onTuesday evening.

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

The Clinton campaign called Christie’s speech a “dark turning point” in a fundraising pitch to donors.

“This isn't how democracy can or should work,” the campaign said in an email to backers. “​In other countries, politicians might try to jail their opponents — but not in America.”

Experts on presidential campaigns said that races have been contentious from the very beginning of the nation’s history, but said the rhetoric in Cleveland seemed to mark new territory.

“This does seem to go to a different level, particularly at a convention,” said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “The criticism may be valid, but the rhetoric may have reached a new low.”

Perry did note several unique circumstances at play in 2016.

For one, Clinton was until recently under investigation by the FBI, a unique situation for a major party’s presidential nominee. FBI Director James Comey ultimately recommended no charges be filed for Clinton’s use of a private server to handle official emails, although he did say Clinton was “extremely careless” with classified information.

Add the fact that the Clintons have decades of scandals and a contentious relationship with Republicans, who sought to impeach President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage Trump expected to bring Hunter Biden's former business partner to debate Davis: On eve of tonight's debate — we've seen this moment in history before MORE in the ’90s, and you have a toxic combination, said Perry.

Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort acknowledged the angry sentiment at the convention Wednesday. He told reporters the chants “probably reflects the attitude of a lot of people in America,” according to the Associated Press.

Polls do show Clinton has a consistent trustworthiness problem with voters. A June NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found 69 percent of voters were concerned she may be dishonest.

But even if Republicans acknowledge the boiling anger toward Clinton, there are questions about whether pushing that narrative is the best use of precious convention resources. As the Trump campaign makes its pitch to a national television audience, some note that Clinton critiques are sucking up a lot of oxygen and airtime.

For example, Tuesday’s theme was ostensibly about growing the economy, with the official title of “Make America Work Again.”

But between Christie’s prosecution and Ben Carson, another former GOP presidential contender, drawing a thread between Clinton and Lucifer, any economic message was drowned out.

“This is a clear play to the base, and it’s a waste of time and resources,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven MORE is trying to convince the people already voting for him to vote for him.”

With two days left in the convention, some Republicans are hoping a message selling the GOP plan rather than denigrating Clinton can break through.

“I want to be more focused ... on the policy that we have, that works for moms and dads on Main Street,” said Meadows. “Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t pay attention to policy as much as they do 30-second soundbites.”