There is an amazing and unprecedented twist of high irony in this: the most dominating, ubiquitous political presence at a Republican National Convention was the Democratic presidential nominee.

Hillary Clinton was everywhere. And nowhere.

No corporeal presence, but heated discussions of her character, her personality and her personal and public history wafted in the air of the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland like machine-made fog.

Speaker after speaker focused their venom entirely on the former first lady, former senator and former secretary of state.

In a 10-minute speech, one orator used Trump's name twice and Clinton's 24 times.

And at most mentions and allusions to Clinton, the red meat Republican delegates in the funny hats chanted: "Lock Her Up! Lock Her Up!"

'Guilty or not guilty?'

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former prosecutor, actually called his speech an indictment and urged the jury of delegates to render a verdict.

"Guilty or not guilty?" he intoned after each charge.

"Guilty!" the delegates screamed in response.

The crowd was almost biblical in its wrath, with the governor relishing his role as Pontius Pilate.

Chris Christie makes his 'case' against Clinton1:47

It is a rare thing in modern American politics to have the faithful of one party accuse the next leader of the rival party of everything from perjury to criminal negligence to high treason.

A New Hampshire delegate and Trump adviser called for Clinton's death by firing squad, which prompted some Secret Service attention.

Name-calling in American politics is an old and honoured tradition. Politicians have called each other idiots, wing nuts, lunatics. The right wing uses "liberal" as a slur.

A Texas Republican once described Governor Rick Perry as "George Bush without the brains."

It's one thing to call an opponent a moron. It's quite another to call a former secretary of state a promoter of al-Qaeda.


Hillary Clinton was the top topic at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Reuters)

This was a convention short on detailed policies. It almost seems that absent the unrelenting attacks on Clinton, the Republicans in the Q wouldn't have had much to talk about.

Most of the speeches were creaking, rehashed Republican boilerplate: law and order, respect for the cops, bloated government, tougher immigration laws, lower taxes, fear of terrorists on Main Street.

Quadrennial presidential conventions have several missions.

The first, of course, is to nominate a presidential ticket to fight an election.

They are also meant to showcase the nominee to the great audience beyond the arena.

Trump Convention

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivered a very long speech on Thursday night. (John Moore/Getty Images)

For the presidential nominee, the mission is to energize the party's base and project to the wider world of independent voters a sense of steadfastness and serious purpose.

In the late evening Thursday, Donald Trump tried to do just that in one of the longest acceptance speeches in convention history.

It would be torturing reason to suggest Mr. Trump sounded presidential in the traditional sense, but he did seem more measured and coherent given the context of such a chaotic convention.

Trump on rigged system and big donors1:05

True, his picture of the United States as a wildly violent, dark and fallen empire was over-the-top, but then most of Donald Trump's life is lived over-the-top.

Divisions remain

Despite what his handlers and the leaders of the Republican Party say, the GOP leaves Cleveland a deeply divided party.

Many delegates suggested they had come to the convention because that's what party loyalists do; not, they said pointedly, because of any overwhelming love of Donald Trump.

One young delegate from Utah I spoke to said she has grave reservations about Trump, especially about some things he has said about gender and race.

She had hoped this week would solidify her thoughts about her party's nominee. She came to Cleveland seeking clarity and left as confused as ever. She said she'll decide how to vote in November.

On Monday, the Democrats open their convention in Philadelphia. On Thursday, Hillary Rodham Clinton will accept her party's nomination, the first time in American history a woman will run for president as the leader of a major party.

'Dumpster fires'

She will join Donald Trump as the two least popular presidential candidates in anybody's memory.

As Tea Party Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska puts it: "I have dumpster fires in my town more popular than these 'leaders.'"

Clinton's vanquished rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, actually has a positive rating. 

What delegates and media will look for in Philadelphia is a well-organized, well-run convention to contrast with the chaos of Cleveland. Also of major interest is what Sanders will tell his loyalists in prime time on Monday night.

And they can look forward to one other thing.

Donald Trump has promised a major rally in Philadelphia on Friday.