Did I step into a time machine and wake up in 1984?
“USA. USA. USA.”
“We are the greatest country on this planet,” said retired Marine Corps General John Allen.
American flags waving robustly in the convention hall. Speakers attacking Russian leaders. Sheriffs, veterans, wounded warriors, generals, families of slain cops. God and America.
No, no, this is not 1984. But this is where Ronald Reagan’s optimistic vision of America has taken us.
Never thought i’d be at a Democratic convention where Ronald Reagan is quoted, approvingly. Just happened.
— adam nagourney (@adamnagourney) July 29, 2016
Welcome to 2016, and one political party’s presidential nominee used Reagan as the inspiration at her convention. The other harkened back to the fearful days of the first “America First” movement in the shadow of Hitler’s rise, the walled-off, fair-trade America promised by Senator Smoot and Representative Hawley, and the hot-button racial rhetoric (if we judge by his approving tweets) of David Duke.
This is not an America I expected to be covering … or living in. It’s a world in which the optimistic legacies of Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bill Clinton and George W. Bush unite against the dark knight of the new American order, Donald Trump.
Yes, America is divided. Deeply divided. Its diversity is lauded by some, feared by others. Its rapid era of social change makes some joyful, others angry. Its no-limits gun culture is treasured by some, lamented by others. Its economic collapse of 2007-2008 has left many deeply distrustful of American institutions, from banks to big business to government.
The times have given us a new Republican Party, one that bears little resemblance to the Party of Reagan. As a historian, I wonder whether this is a one-election aberration (like Wendell Wilkie’s outsider takeover of the GOP in 1940) or a fundamental shift in America’s political lines.
The DNC is co-opting Republican tropes while maintaining Democratic ones because there is now only one political party for grown-ups.
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) July 29, 2016
Hearing speaker after speaker at Hillary Clinton’s convention refer to Ronald Reagan, I recalled reading a newspaper editorial early in the Reagan era headlined “Franklin Delano Reagan,” as a nod to Reagan’s frequent invocation of FDR. On the final night of the Democratic National Convention, we could have modified that headline this way: “Hillary Rodham Reagan.”
It’s morning in America. On the other side of the street.
Like Reagan, Clinton is not embracing the policy agenda of the other party. But like Reagan, she is seeking to unite her hard-core party loyalists and disaffected members of the other party. Like Reagan, who gave Democratic hawk Jeane Kirkpatrick a platform at the Republican National Convention in 1984 to reject the changes in the party she long had backed, Clinton found speakers who implored disillusioned Republicans to switch sides.
“This year, I will vote for a Democrat for the first time,” said Doug Elmets, a former Reagan administration staffer from California. Former Virginia GOP activist Jennifer Pierotti Lim tried to convince reluctant Republicans not just to stay home but to actively thwart Trump — “to not only oppose Donald Trump but to support Hillary Clinton.”
It’s about more than disqualifying Trump–it’s about making the Democratic Party acceptable and an easy fit for skittish Rs, independents
— Robert Costa (@costareports) July 29, 2016
Clinton’s acceptance speech was vintage Hillary Clinton, more like a Bill Clinton State of the Union speech with a list of dozens of policy priorities than a poetic paean to a shining city on a hill, as depicted by Reagan or the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo. But its “we’re all in it patriotism” and unabashed Northern Methodist morality made it a rhetorical antidote to Trump’s “only I can solve it” message.
Clinton just mentioned God in her speech. Trump did not in his entire acceptance speech. #justafact
— Vincent Harris (@VincentHarris) July 29, 2016
Leading up to Clinton’s speech were some of the most powerful speakers of the week, who skewered Trump with ridicule and passion, as they also made the case for Clinton.
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar introduced himself to America as fellow basketball superstar Michael Jordan. “I did that,” he said, “because I know Trump wouldn’t know difference.”
There was no such levity in the words of Khizr Khan, a proud Muslim American whose son Army Captain Humayun Khan died in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2004.
“Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution?” Khizr Khan then brandishes his own copy of the document.
— Alex Roarty (@Alex_Roarty) July 29, 2016
The line about Trump that struck me most: “You have sacrificed nothing.”
— David Freddoso (@freddoso) July 29, 2016
Incredibly moving Khan speech. America’s greatness exemplified. #DemsInPhilly
— Mindy Finn (@mindyfinn) July 29, 2016
Clinton is going to have a tall order surpassing Khizr Khan.
— Ramesh Ponnuru (@RameshPonnuru) July 29, 2016
There was no way Clinton could bring more raw emotion to her speech than Khan. She didn’t try. She delivered a well-written speech effectively, if not effusively. It will be remembered more for its historical import than its historically important phrases.
Still, for the sake of the social media world in the year 2016, one zinger will go viral: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
Clinton came into her convention week as a flawed messenger of a divided party. She remains a flawed messenger, but the party has been unified, with the exception of a small band of Bernie boo-birds who will choose a Green Party candidate who this week compared Clinton’s Democrats to Hitler’s Nazis.
To a large swath of America, Clinton will never be acceptable, and Trump will be the lesser of two evils. Or the man who can save America.
— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) July 29, 2016
Trump’s campaign released a statement dismissing the speech as “a speech delivered from a fantasy universe, not the world we’re living in today.” Roger Ailes couldn’t have said it better. You’ll hear these talking points a lot in one of America’s two parallel political/media universes.
Beyond the spin is the bottom line. There is always a convention “bounce” in the polls. Trump, despite a poorly organized convention, got a bump as a result of the effective demonization of Clinton over four consecutive evenings. I predict that Clinton will surge in the polls, gaining the ground she lost and then some.
As American conventions give way to the Olympics, Clinton is likely to be in the lead. But the election remains in the hands of the Ronald Reagan optimists. The vision they choose in November will be the face of America in the decade ahead.
Donald Trump is the most disliked presidential nominee in the history of scientific polling. But most national polls still show him barely trailing in his unconventional outsider bid for the presidency. The combination of those two facts creates an uncomfortable reality for Hillary Clinton as she prepares for the first Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia since 1948. She has work to do.
Here are 10 things I think Clinton needs to accomplish in Philly to make her week a success.
1. Lower her negative ratings.
Clinton’s high unfavorable ratings would be lethal in a normal year. But this is not a normal year. True, she’s the most unpopular Democratic nominee in modern times. Her opponent, however, is even more widely loathed. Still, Trump is hanging tough in most national polls conducted the week of the Republican National Convention. In the next four days, Clinton has to convince at least a few of the anti-Trump, anti-Clinton undecided voters that she’s acceptable. Or, as Barack Obama said infamously in the 2008 New Hampshire primary debate, “likable enough.”
2. Connect with working-class whites.
That’s one of the reason she picked a running mate with a blue-collar family background, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. But she has to convince displaced white workers in the industrial heartland that she understands why they feel dispossessed and angry at the system. A tall order, but that’s what national conventions are for. (Right, Donald?)
3. Convince Democratic liberals to get on her bandwagon.
Clinton is doing better than Trump at winning back supporters of her primary opponent(s). But that’s a low bar. She needs 95 percent of Bernie Sanders’ supporters to back her, not just 80 percent. And if she can’t persuade them not to vote for Jill Stein, she needs to at least make sure they don’t vote for Trump. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (and the Russian hackers who released the scurrilous, embarrassing Democratic National Committee emails the weekend before the convention) didn’t do the nominee any favors. Eight years ago, I covered an event featuring “NObama” activists who had backed Clinton during their bitter primary battle. By the end of the week, they were on the Obama team.
4. Keep the convention on the issues and avoid personal attacks on Trump.
Undecided voters don’t need to hear jokes about Donald Trump’s combover or his gold-plated chairs. They don’t like Trump already. No need to remind them. Democrats would be better served by dissecting Trump on issues, from foreign policy and national defense and outsourcing jobs to tax cuts and family leave and stiffing small businesses. There’s plenty of meat there for Democrats to devour. And they can make the case that her judgment and temperament are more presidential than Trump’s. If we hear jokes about his hand size or bald spot, it’s a bad sign.
5. Increase her margin among Latinos — and the turnout.
For at least two decades, I’ve seen Latinos described as “the sleeping giant of American politics.” It’s a tiresome cliche, but it’s still being used because the turnout rate of Hispanic Americans remains significantly lower than African Americans, Asian Americans, and non-Hispanic whites. Clinton is crushing Trump among Democratic and independent Latinos. She has a huge lead among the wealthiest Latinos — about 50 percentage points, according to my analysis of Reuters presidential polling data. But 40 percent of this Republican-leaning group remains undecided. Clinton needs to convince them to vote for her, not to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson or stay home. A Latino wave could drown Trump in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and even Arizona, making it all but impossible for him to win, even if he takes Pennsylvania and Ohio.
6. Match Barack Obama in the African American vote.
For the past two presidential elections, African American turnout has been higher than non-Hispanic white turnout. Many political journalists attribute that to the historic Obama candidacy. Can Clinton maintain that level of support and enthusiasm? Support: undoubtedly. Two state polls in Ohio and Pennsylvania showed Trump registered zero percent of the African American vote. Can’t do much worse than that. But Clinton needs to mobilize African Americans who are either enthusiastic about her agenda or scared of Donald Trump’s vision for America (or his backing among white supremacists like David Duke).
7. Appeal to young Americans.
The major party candidates have the oldest combined age of any nominees in American history. Young voters overwhelming reject Trump. But young Democrats overwhelming rejected Clinton for the even-older Bernie Sanders. So that means it’s not about age, but ideas and outlook. Clinton must describe her ideas that can improve the lives of the Millennial Generation. College-loan debt, equal pay for women, paid family leave and an improved environment for job creation would be good places to start.
8. Make the convention about the future and not the past.
Yes, yes, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be speaking. But this convention is not about the glories of past Democratic victories. It’s about what’s yet to come. Donald Trump wants to return America to its past greatness.
Nostalgia is not a winning formula in an increasingly young, diverse America. Today’s 18-year-old voters were 2 years old when Hillary Clinton was elected to the Senate and 14 when she stepped down as Secretary of State. Yes, old accomplishments are fine. But they are old. What will you do for us tomorrow?
9. Avoid a cheesesteak blunder.
As a native Philadelphian, I cringed when John Kerry, then running for president, ordered a cheesesteak with swiss cheese in 2004. That’s a cultural faux pas. If you’re trying to appeal to “average folks,” it’s best not to act like an out-of-touch politician. Please don’t play the theme to Rocky — or even talk about Apollo Creed and his son. It doesn’t fit. Authenticity matters. I know that’s going to be tough, but be yourself. Whatever that is.
10. No plagiarism.
Right, Michelle Obama?
>> Catch my daily analysis of ongoings at the Democratic convention, right here on RickDunhamBlog.com.