(Sorry, I’ve wanted to do another Star Wars crawl since the Indiana Primary.)
The weary get no rest in this propulsive presidential election. Republican Convention delegates had barely checked out of their Cleveland hotel rooms when news broke that Hillary Clinton picked Tim Kaine as her running mate. (Wait, I was right?!) And now, though we’ve barely had time to unpack that choice, the Democrats are in Philadelphia for a convention of their own.
As I expected last Monday, the Republican Party took important steps toward unity while Donald Trump made gains. (I don’t think the week’s most dramatic moment — Ted Cruz’s endorsement of everyone’s conscience — will affect anything other than Ted Cruz.) Frank Luntz’s focus group of undecided voters heavily shifted toward Trump. Early indications were that Trump earned a convention polling bump, and this morning a CNN poll confirmed a major Trump bounce. Essentially, if you’re mad as hell these days, he showed you’re not alone. It does feel like Trump is turning the corner with #NeverTrumpers, though it remains to be seen if lurking around the corner is a hole out of which it might take years to climb.
Monday, July 25: Theme: “United Together”
- First Lady Michelle Obama
- U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont
- DREAMer activist Astrid Silva
Tuesday, July 26: Theme: “A Lifetime of Fighting for Children and Families”
- Former President Bill Clinton
- The Mothers of the Movement
Wednesday, July 27: Theme: “Working Together”
- President Barack Obama
- Vice President Joe Biden
Thursday, July 28: Theme: “Stronger Together”
- Chelsea Clinton
- Presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton
1) Hillary Clinton’s most important task is threading a narrow needle in her rebuttal against Trump’s chaos theory. As I wrote here in May, Trump wants this to be an election about security. Since he’s running as the “Daddy” who protects us from bad people, his best chances at winning lie with a scared electorate. He has since crystallized himself as the “law and order” candidate, an on-the-nose phrase he used leading up to the convention and then four times in his acceptance speech. Thursday’s oratorio on the falling sky was a predictable and seemingly effective tune.
In an effort to limit Trump’s appeal, Clinton’s response, on one hand, will need to convince Americans that there isn’t as much lawlessness as Trump suggests. These FBI statistics show violent and property crime on distinct downward trends over the last decade:
Still, on the heals of Director James Comey’s biting exoneration of Secretary Clinton, one can choose to distrust the FBI’s reporting, as advised by the conspiracy watchdog Trump Campaign. Still, even those gullible enough to trust the Bureau can see that the above statistics, like most crime stats the liberal media has rammed down our esophagi, stop at 2014. What of more recent history?
True enough, most charted data cuts off two years ago, but the Brennan Center for Justice recently concluded its study for 2015. It shows mixed results, as crime popped a bit in Los Angeles (up 25 percent), Baltimore (19), and Charlotte (16). Still, it also reminds us that “Nationally, crime remains at all-time lows.” Factcheck.org, like the FBI and BCJ, notes an overall plunge of crime in recent decades, noting that most types of crime, including violent crime, peaked about 25 years ago and have steadily fallen since, though it also notes the same cities that saw increases in 2015.
On the other hand, statistics never did much to convince our basest anxieties. When things feel chaotic, no pencil-pusher at the FBI can alleviate fears that our families are vulnerable. Indeed, even during that steady post-1992 fall in crime, Gallup found that the percent of people who think crime is on the rise has annually been a majority for over a decade.
So is 2016 actually worse? Gallup’s findings suggest it’s hard to say for certain while in the moment. But whether things are actually more chaotic or they just feel that way, in politics, it doesn’t matter. Hillary Clinton needs to speak to these anxious times and explain why she can keep us safer than Donald Trump can, while she also needs to own the Obama legacy and his reliance on cold data.
In sum, she’ll have the unenviable task of walking a razor thin tightrope, one that will be vigorously rattled at both ends by the Republican Party and its new leader.
2) There’s a case to be made that we have two centrist Democrats running against each other. We know the argument for Clinton’s middling location; Bernie Sanders and his righteous crew continually reminded us (as many still do) that she falls short of the leftist litmus test.
As for Trump’s Democratic centrism, we’re familiar with the Cruz conservatives who point to his years of liberal beliefs, donations to and praise of the Clintons, and his, you know, history as a registered Democrat. More recently, the Trump-as-Democrat argument was articulated by the conservative National Review, a stubbornly #NeverTrump publication, through staff writer David French (he of the embarrassing third-party run promoted by Bill Kristol). Despite his hardline position on illegal immigration, the Republican Primary and national convention saw him lay claim to the center on other important issues: he broke with economic conservatives on free trade, foreign policy neoconservatives on American leadership, and social conservatives on the importance of traditional values and bathrooms. (And did Ivanka build on those defections with expensive, big-government, Democratic positions on child care and women’s issues?)
Nevertheless, with the RNC behind us, we see that Republican animosity toward Hillary Clinton is through the roof, and that unifies them, regardless of Trump’s heterodoxy. Trump’s claim of the center, therefore, was a prudent political move.
3) Which explains Clinton’s Tim Kaine pick. We knew that Clinton’s VP dilemma was: Should she attempt the placation of Bernie Sanders supporters by picking a touted progressive like Elizabeth Warren, Tom Perez, or Sanders himself? OR, just as Trump counts on conservatives to vote against Clinton, should she count on progressives’ hatred toward Trump to drive them to the polls in order to support the Democrat?
We have our answer. Kaine’s center-leftism redoubles Clinton’s effort to be the the pragmatic candidate that can both hold off Trump’s charge in November and then govern in January. However, the selection predictably irked many on the far left. If Sanders’s supporters ultimately abandon the Democratic ticket in favor of a third party or staying home, we will point to the VP selection as the biggest mistake of her terminated political career.
4) Hillary Clinton must have control of the ego argument and her tone. Trump’s best moment from his speech occurred near the end (transcript):
“My opponent asks her supporters to recite a three-word loyalty pledge. It reads: ‘I’m With Her.’ I choose to recite a different pledge. My pledge reads: ‘I’M WITH YOU’ – THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. I am your voice.”
That’s good stuff! At once it slams Clinton’s slogan while transcending it with a far better one. It effectively reminds voters, “She’s running because she dreams of the power. I’m running because I want to serve the people.” It’s perfect. If he really makes that his slogan, Clinton has to — HAS TO — drop hers. The contrast would be damning.
That being said, it wouldn’t be a shot of Trump brilliance if it wasn’t paired with a bullet in his own foot. It’s Donald Trump we’re talking about here — we could write a book about his opportunistic career. But even if we couldn’t, the reveal of this slogan came in the same speech as: “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
“I alone can fix it”! At Senator Obama’s worst Messianic moments in 2008, he never unleashed such a line. And if he had, Republicans would have spent the last eight years reminding us about it. “Remember when he said ‘I alone can fix it’? What a self-absorbed lunatic. He should have stuck to community-organizing.”
It’s not for me to tell Trump what he should have stuck to (wrestling?), but I can’t help but think how this remark undermined his superb sloganeering. “I alone can fix it,” as David French also noted, smacks of pretty un-conservative principles: “Trump understands what Democrats have long understood: The disconnected and vulnerable often feel that they have nowhere to turn but to government. They feel helpless and look for a champion.” In Trump, they’ve found him, but selfless he has never shown to be.
And that wasn’t all. There are campaign promises, big campaign promises, and then things like: “Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored. . . . the day after I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced.” These claims mirror the magical, empty campaign promises for which Republican skewered Obama.
Of course, both these candidates have egos the size of their home state. Nevertheless, Trump calling out “I’m with her” forces her to repel this new charge.
As for her tone, she can kiss the election goodbye if she tries to match Trump’s red-faced diatribe. Trump surely set a record for volume, if not ratings, for a national convention, but his supporters, and many undecideds, needed that from him. Unfortunately for Clinton, a country that needs passion from its candidates puts her in an uncomfortable situation. It’s too bad, but in politics many voters seem to measure a loud male in decibels but a loud woman in pitch. She must convey her passion to lead, protect, and unite in relentlessly composed tonality.
No one can out-shout Donald Trump, but she shouldn’t even try.
5) Speakers of the Night:
- Monday: Bernie Sanders — He’s in a situation similar to what Ted Cruz faced. Both represented the wings of their party. Both argued against the watered down positions of their opponent and eventual nominee. And both, on the virtue of finishing with the second most delegates, earned the opportunity to address the convention. We know what Cruz did with it, but I doubt Sanders will follow suit, considering he’s already endorsed Clinton. Even with the recent Wikileak of the DNC working against Sanders in the Democratic Primary (coupled with an oh-so-pathetic rebuttal from the Clinton Campaign essentially saying, “Yeah, but it was the Russians that leaked it, so.”), I expect this pacifist to be a good soldier and emphasize that his movement turned this Democratic platform into the most progressive in modern history.
- Tuesday: President Bill Clinton — If his wife loses, it’ll be the last political speech of his life. He’s probably wrestling with the dilemma of leaving it all out on the table versus overshadowing Hillary. I’m eager to see which one he chooses.
- Wednesday: President Barack Obama — Eight years ago, President Bush was so unpopular that he did not attend the RNC (under the cover of hurricane preparations) for fear of being an albatross around Senator McCain. This year, the President is seen as imperative for his party’s victory. Expect some fireworks — and “four more years” chants — in this one.
- Thursday: The Empress herself. The Dempire Strikes Back this week, and it better be good, because we all know the third movie is kind of a let down.