The dichotomy of America is apparent at the two national political conventions.
Hope vs. fear.
Love vs. anger.
Experience vs. political newcomers.
Diversity vs. shades of white.
Meryl Streep vs. Scott Baio.
Cagney + Lacey vs. The Apprentice.
Hiring vs. Firing.
Gracious loser (Bernie Sanders) vs. unrepentant enemy (Ted Cruz).
It Takes a Village vs. Burn the Village Down.
Even without saying a single word, the Democratic convention has won the battle of images. People look happier, even the Bernie boo-birds. People act happier, especially the elected officials. People seem happier to be speaking there.
And then there is the messaging.
The Republican convention did a very good job sowing doubts about Hillary Clinton, particularly on the subject of emails. It exposed her vulnerabilities as an imperfect messenger. But it missed an important opportunity to demonstrate to America that Donald Trump has any policy vision for America. Voters left that convention without any idea what Donald Trump would do on health care, taxes, budget priorities, trade, relations with China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, NATO, Mexico … the list goes on and on. The only clear policy prescription is that he will build a wall. And Mexico will pay for it.
Clinton’s convention has artfully followed a three-pronged strategy:
- Rebuild the battered reputation of the candidate, whose positive ratings fell below 30 percent in one post GOP-convention poll.
- Lay out a specific set of policies on family leave, equal pay, minimum wage, anti-terrorism, college tuition and loans, infrastructure, national defense strategy, small business development, job retraining, veterans’ care … the list goes on and on.
- Shatter Trump’s reputation one speech at a time. His lawsuits. His persistent sexism. His dissembling. His university. His nativism. His steaks. His admiration for dictators. His treatment of contractors. His crude insults. His outsourced neckties. His ego. “He has no clue about what makes America great,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “Actually he has no clue, period.” Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg dismissed Trump as a fraud: “I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one.” John Hutson, a retired admiral, said it most harshly: “I used to serve in the Navy with John McCain. I used to vote in the same party as John McCain. Donald, you’re not fit to polish John McCain’s boots!”
Wednesday night’s show was carefully calibrated and artfully executed. I identified 10 themes that were repeated over and over by speakers ranging from assassination survivor Gabby Giffords to President Obama. The themes almost always reflected an implicit (or expressed) contrast with Trump:
- Clinton is qualified — some, like Obama, called her the most qualified presidential candidate in history.
- Clinton is persistent. On health care, 9/11 first responders, foster children.
- Clinton is loyal.
- Clinton is tough. Just ask Obama about the 2008 primaries.
- Clinton has the temperament needed to be president.
- Clinton possesses humility. It’s not about her. It’s about solving problems.
- Clinton cares. Speaker after speaker gave personal examples, something almost completely lacking at the Republican convention.
- Trump is a bad person. That theme might have been overdone, but, hey, there are lots of examples.
- Trump bad businessman. Same as above.
- Trump is crazy. Well, that may not have been in the official convention script, but Mike Bloomberg went there when he ad libbed “let’s elect a sane, competent person.”
Clinton is a flawed candidate, with a four-decade track record of political controversies accompanying her long record of accomplishments. But, for a week at least, Democrats are Photoshopping out the blemishes. Former Defense Secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta, who has publicly criticized President Obama’s security policies, rhapsodized over Clinton.
“She is smart. She is tough. She is principled. And she is ready,” he said.
Both Obama and Biden got personal in their endorsement speeches. “No matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits,” Obama said. The outgoing president’s optimistic rhetoric about America included shoutouts to Republican icons such as Teddy Roosevelt and evoked the “Morning in America” imagery of Ronald Reagan. In November, Obama said, “the choice isn’t even close.” While praising Clinton he warned about a “self-declared savior” and “home-grown demagogues.”
— Chuck Raasch (@craasch) July 28, 2016
The agony of many Republicans, from Bush loyalists to hard-core conservatives, speaks to the success of the Democratic speeches on Wednesday and the failure of Trump to inspire any positive vision for his supporters.
I disagree with the President on so much policy and his agenda, but appreciate the hope and optimism in this speech.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) July 28, 2016
I liked it better when Republicans were optimistic about America, believed in Free Trade, and were not enamored of Russia. Just me?
— Matt Lewis (@mattklewis) July 28, 2016
I liked the old days (pre 2016) when speeches @ GOP convention were inspiring & funny while those at Democrat version were fearful & boring
— John Ziegler (@Zigmanfreud) July 28, 2016
Michelle & Barack Obama speeches remind that Rs and Ds want(ed) same basic things, different prescriptions. Trump the outlier #DemsInPhilly
— Mindy Finn (@mindyfinn) July 28, 2016
Republicans have to abandon Trump. It’s not merely that he’s plumbed the depths of depravity; it’s also that he’s still plumbing every day.
— Tony Fratto (@TonyFratto) July 27, 2016
As Obama finished his oration, the convention hall’s audio system blared the song “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
Democrats can only hope that is the case. There’s still a long time between now and November 8.
The 2020 Republican presidential race began on a fractious and flummoxing night in Cleveland, one day after a deeply and bitterly divided party formally selected its 2016 nominee.
Four of the most likely contenders for the party’s nomination in four years spoke to the delegates at Donald Trump’s convention and laid out their cases for the post-Trump Republican Party, even before the current nominee is scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech on Thursday.
The quartet — vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, presidential runner-up Ted Cruz, presidential flameout Scott Walker, and remote-control speaker Marco Rubio — all took different paths to the podium and aimed their remarks at different audiences.
Pence was the loyal lieutenant to Donald Trump. The Indiana governor once supported Ted Cruz, but he switched teams after Trump’s triumph and urged other Republicans to do it. His gracious, low-key approach will endear him to die-hard Trump loyalists and to congressional Republicans who are not (and never have been) enamored with Trump.
Walker urged the party to unite, but mostly repeated his pro-business, anti-Washington talk that has made him a hero in anti-union circles but didn’t resonate particularly well with the working-class white voters who this year seized control of the Republican Party. His praise for Trump was tepid. “A vote for anyone other than Donald Trump is a vote for Hillary,” he told the delegates.
Rubio, as has been his style during his single term in the Senate, tried to have it both ways. He didn’t attend the convention — giving him a bit of distance from Trump, in case the GOP nominee eventually self-immolates. But his brief video remarks included all the right touches to win applause from the Trump loyalists in Cleveland. “The time for fighting each other is over,” said Rubio, who famously described Trump as a small-handed “con artist” and “the most vulgar person ever to aspire to the presidency.” That was then, this is now: “It’s time to come together,” he told delegates.
That message didn’t reach Ted Cruz. The Texas senator, dubbed “Lyin’ Ted” by Trump, couldn’t bring himself to endorse the nominee. Cruz, whose father was linked to Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald by Trump, gave a Reagan-like conservative call to arms. He talked conservative principles. He didn’t talk Trump. He didn’t endorse Trump’s policies or his candidacy. He said to Americans, “Vote your conscience.” He was heckled during his speech. He was booed as he left the stage.
It was a calculated gamble with his national political future hanging in the balance. If Trump manages to win the election, Cruz is going to be a non-person in Donald Trump’s Washington. The Senate leadership, Republican and Democrat, despises him and the president would, too. If Trump loses, Cruz has already volunteered to lead the ragged Republican survivors.
In the meantime, he’s a non-person in Trump World. Even Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson disinvited Cruz to his convention suite, with associates telling CNN that he didn’t want to be an anti-Trump prop at this point.
The reaction from Republicans was varied, but it was almost all emotionally charged, positively and negatively.
Of note, Ted Cruz is getting praised from both the left and right of the GOP, but not from the establishment. Perfect set up for 2020.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) July 21, 2016
Not hard to find CRUZ delegates who think he lit his career on fire
— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) July 21, 2016
Representative Peter King of New York, an enthusiastic Cruz hater, piled on.
“To me, Ted Cruz showed America what he really is,” King told NBC in a post-speech rant. “He’s a fraud. He’s a liar. He’s self-centered. He disqualified himself from ever being considered for president of the United States.
“He took a pledge to support the nominee. Today the Ted Cruz that I’ve known — he cannot be trusted and he’s not a true Republican. He’s not a true conservative. I never saw as much outrage on the floor as I did tonight.”
King’s views are widely held among moderate Republicans and Trumpistas, but Cruz is confident there is a path to victory following a Trump defeat. Like Ronald Reagan following his 1976 loss to Gerald Ford, Cruz sent a clear signal that he will keep on running, even if it means challenging an incumbent President Trump in four years.
But not every Republican shares King’s contempt for Cruz. The Texas firebrand is hoping that people like David Frum will help him rebuild the Republican Party from the rubble of Trump — if it is indeed rubble come November.
Ted Cruz earned the most honorable boos at a GOP convention since those for Nelson Rockefeller for condemning the John Birch Society.
— David Frum (@davidfrum) July 21, 2016
I have never been more proud to work for Ted Cruz that I was tonight. This speech will survive the test of time-historically courageous.
— Chris Wilson (@WilsonWPA) July 21, 2016
For one day, at least, Ted Cruz got what he wants. We’re talking about him and not about Donald Trump. And we’re talking about him as the post-Trump voice of the GOP. That’s what most reporters are writing today. But remember the other three 2020 candidates who also auditioned for the next nomination on a crazy night in Cleveland.
Day 2 at the Republican National Convention was billed as jobs night: “Make America Work Again,” in Trump-speak.
But there only seemed to be one job that convention speakers cared much about: Donald Trump’s.
More precisely, the theme was to make sure that one American is unemployed come January: Hillary Clinton.
Benghazi, Lucifer, Clinton emails, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, even recycled 1960s radical Saul Alinsky. “Lock her up,” the delegates serenaded Hillary Clinton, again and again.
A long night of primetime speeches, but not a single plan from Trump to create American jobs. Except at Trump Winery in Virginia.
That led a former Ted Cruz staffer to tweet this:
Unless Trump is going to make America work again by making Republicans prison guards for Democrats, I don’t know what the big jobs plan is.
— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) July 20, 2016
Some establishment speakers such as Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan barely mentioned Trump. (Maybe that’s part of the reason why they were booed by many Trump delegates.)
The ongoings in Cleveland led Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.org, to write that GOP establishment Trump apologists have been reduced to declaring that their nominee is “better than Clinton.”
More to the point, they mean “less bad than Clinton.”
Time management of the convention continues to be dreadful. Some of the most effective speakers — Tiffany Trump (who used anecdotes to humanize her father), National Rifle Association lobbyist Chris Cox (who built a policy case for why electing Trump matters) and McConnell (who skewered Clinton time and again with embarrassing examples from her past) — were pushed out of the live-TV 10 p.m. hour for a soap opera actress and 2016 also-ran Ben Carson. And the winery woman. That looked more like an infomercial than a political convention.
“Whoever organized this event would be fired from a regional sales conference,” tweeted Andrew Sullivan.
By the way, did I forget to tell you that Donald Trump and Mike Pence were officially nominated for president and vice president?
That got lost in the ad hoc scheduling stew.
It’s important to note that candidates are only graded by the media for hewing to political traditions. Trump is unlike any other presidential nominee ever, so it may not be fair to judge him by historical standards. After all, he has turned history on its head over the past year. So I think it’s necessary for all of us to put ourselves inside the heads of undecided voters or reluctant Republicans.
What is the best way for Trump to defeat Hillary? It’s to destroy her. He’s the most unpopular presidential nominee in the history of polling, so he’s not going to convince the doubters that he’s a good guy. That’s why he’s enlisted Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie and Shelly Moore Capito and Mitch McConnell and Scott Baio and many more, to try to shred what’s left of Clinton’s credibility.
That process takes more than one speech. It is an accumulation of days (or weeks) of disciplined attacks.
Does Team Trump have the skill and the discipline to pull it off? Can establishment figures such as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus and McConnell play constructive (or is it destructive) roles? That’s what the rest of Trump’s convention week is about.