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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Galston and Kamarck: Clinton and Trump Convention Speeches Should Help Dems

At Brookings William A. Galston and Elaine Kamarck explain why “Trump’s acceptance speech failed to broaden his support“:

Donald Trump faced two main political challenges in his acceptance speech—unifying a badly divided party and expanding his support beyond the passionate minority that has rallied to his cause.

How did he do?

On the first challenge, pretty well. For the first time in weeks, he didn’t attack other Republicans, although it must have been tempting to say something about Ted Cruz. In fact, he has flipped his campaign in recent weeks to focus on security and law and order issues that tend to bring Republicans together, and they dominated the first and longest part of the speech. He endorsed the policy concerns of the party’s major interest groups, including the NRA…Only the corporate and financial communities came away empty-handed.  The party of business could not have been happy about Trump’s repeated opposition to almost every trade deal that has been negotiated in the past quarter century—or his declaration that the era of multilateral trade agreements is over.

Turning to the second challenge, he and his warm-up acts did in fact reach out beyond the base…Perhaps the most surprising outreach came from Trump himself when he talked about protecting the LGBTQ community against Islamic terrorism after the hateful attack in Orlando. And then Trump followed up with  an unscripted comment meant to emphasize the point: “As a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said.”

…Nonetheless, his Nixonian invocation of “law and order” gave no ground to the many African-Americans who experience contemporary policing as oppressive and unfair. His stated determination to enforce the law against illegal immigration could not have swayed the millions of Latinos whose families will be directly affected.

Galson and Kamarck add that “No one believes that Mr. Trump can win with 41 percent of the vote, even if the Libertarian and Green Party candidates do much better than ever before. So he needs to move some voters in groups not naturally inclined to back his candidacy.” Further,

The broadest question is whether Trump’s dark picture of a country under threat, in decline, and undermined by elite corruption is shared by a majority of his fellow-citizens.  While most Americans are frustrated, many fewer are as angry as were most of the Republican delegates in the hall.  Are the American people prepared to lurch from hope and change to fear and loathing?

Kamarck and Galston conclude that Trump’s speech “left Republicans more reassured and unified than they had been during the first three days of their convention” although he quickly reversed whatever good he did with his response to the Khan family and his refusal to endorse JohnMcCain or Paul Ryan’s for re-election.

In his analysis of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic convention speech, Galston said,

As Hillary Clinton came to the podium to deliver her acceptance speech, a well-run Democratic convention had already accomplished a number of important political tasks.  Careful preparation, especially the incorporation of platform planks that Bernie Sanders had pushed into the Party’s platform, helped heal the breach between Sanders’ supporters and the Clinton campaign.  Well-crafted speeches by leading Democrats laid out the stakes in this year’s election and sharpened the case against Donald Trump.

..Her task was to achieve a credible balance between continuity and change—to argue that President Obama created a firm foundation for the change we must build together during the next decade…Her second challenge was to drive a wedge between change in the abstract, which 7 in 10 Americans favor, and the kind of change Donald Trump is offering, which is ill-informed, misguided, and much too risky to be worth the gamble…Her third challenge, on which much ink has been spilled, was to begin the task of reversing negative perceptions of her character—most important, that she cannot be trusted…

…Her challenge was to make a virtue of necessity by underscoring the principles (and the faith) that have guided her public life.  This strategy could also help counter a related accusation, that she is a cold-blooded pragmatist, moved by burning ambition, who lacks a moral core and changes direction in response to shifting political winds.  In the end, trust rests on authenticity.

All very difficult challenges, but Clinton, Galston argues, did well with it:

It was not an oratorical masterpiece, but it was a sturdy, workmanlike presentation of who she is, how she thinks, and what kind of president she would be…She acknowledged being a public servant who has always been more comfortable with the “servant” rather than the “public” dimensions of her work.  She affirmed the obvious: she is a policy wonk who sweats the details, as she insisted a president should.  She set forth her guiding principles and quoted the Methodist credo.  She praised the accomplishments of the Obama-Biden administration while making it clear that she is far from satisfied with the status quo.

And she raised questions about Donald Trump that go to the core of his candidacy…In one of the speech’s most notable lines, she said that “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

“By itself, a single speech cannot solve a candidate’s problems,” concludes Galston. “But it can set a sense of direction and mark out a way forward.  Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech was a good beginning—an honest presentation of self.  In that sense, it was completely authentic.  And authenticity is the basis of trust.”

All in all, both the Trump and Clinton convention speeches served the Democratic cause well enough, as Galston and Kamarch show. Trump’s meltdown since then has added momentum to Clinton’s candidacy, to the point where a Democratic landslide that could flip majority control of both houses of congress is no longer a distant dream. The most important decision Democratic strategists now face may now be  how to allocate resources between investing in House and Senate races.

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