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Battle Lines Drawn Between
Clinton and Trump
| published July 30, 2016 |
By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor
Hillary Rodham Clinton made history Thursday night by becoming the first woman to be nominated by a major political party in U.S. history, accepting the role of standard bearer of the Democratic Party in front of thousands of delegates and visitors assembled in Philadelphia and a television audience estimated at 32.5 million viewers.
Clinton officially accepted the nomination of her party at 10:47 p.m., a victory which comes after a bitter primary and caucus fight with her Democratic rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, but also after stints as a United States Senator and later U.S. Secretary of State—a job she accepted from her previous political rival, then President-elect Barack Obama.
The night before, President Obama had delivered a soaring, eloquent address to delegates and those watching on television, estimated to be in the tens of millions, in which he sought to pass the torch to his potential successor. Clinton will now face Republican nominee Donald J. Trump in the general election in November.
Clinton’s address to delegates Thursday night came after four days of a convention at first marked by bitter divisions, familial fractures, and an unfolding scandal involving emails which show that top DNC officials sought to tip the scales in favor of Clinton throughout the debates and primaries while also minimizing the efforts of Clinton’s closest rivals, Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. The fracas resulted in several nights of booing and catcalls, as well as the forced resignation of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz from her post as DNC chairperson.
The disruptions, both inside the arena and outside, threatened briefly to mar what Democratic leaders had hoped would be a convention standing in dramatic contrast to the often contentious and unsettled Republican gathering only one week earlier in Cleveland. Indeed, even Clinton’s acceptance speech was interrupted several times by angry dissidents within the hall, but the noisy insurrections were quickly drowned out by the supportive cheers of the thousands of delegates pledged to support their newly anointed candidate.
In her speech accepting her role, the former First Lady and the former Secretary of State acknowledged a long week of convention stresses and challenges, and thanked those party elders and leaders who had taken the stage to speak in the nights prior to her appearance, including Vice-President Joe Biden, Vice-Presidential nominee Tim Kaine, Senator Bernie Sanders, and President Barack Obama, whom she hopes to succeed in the Oval Office.
“We heard the man from Hope, Bill Clinton, and the man of hope, Barack Obama,” she declared, setting off a thunderous round of cheers and applause. “America is stronger because of Barack Obama’s leadership, and I am better because of his friendship.”
In addition, she thanked Senator Sanders, gesturing toward his seat in the arena, and acknowledged his remarkable and successful effort to motivate tens of thousands of young voters and disenfranchised people to enter the political process for the first time—presumably as Democrats—and thanked him for bringing the value of progressive issues such as social justice and economic fairness to the forefront of the discussion. Clinton urged those millions of Sanders’ supporters, newly enfranchised in the political process in nearly every state, to actively support her campaign so that progressive change can occur.
Speaking to Sanders supporters around the country, she added “I want you to know: I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause. The country needs your ideas, energy, and passion.”
Recognizing the optics of where Democrats were meeting that night only a few blocks from the birth of the United States, she began her speech by offering a brief look at the founding fathers—people from 13 divergent places and with often radically differing opinions—came together to start a conversation which would eventually lead to the birth of the United States. Referencing the national motto e pluribus unum, “out of many, we are one,” Clinton pivoted toward her attacks on Republican nominee Donald Trump, whom she said often says that he alone has the answers to the nation’s problems and challenges.
Referencing Trump’s address to Republicans in Cleveland—as speech marked by what many observers call a general air of darkness and fear—Clinton took aim at the GOP nominee for his frequent bombastic remarks and his sometimes improvised foreign policy proposals.
“We heard Donald Trump’s answer last week at his convention,” Clinton said, “He wants to divide us…from the rest of the world and from each other.”
Clinton quipped, “Donald Trump spoke for some 70 odd minutes…and I do mean odd.” The bard drew a huge round of applause and brought much of the arena to its feet.
The former Secretary of State then sought to square the circle, as it were, drawing together the two often divergent paradoxes of her campaign message: that she is deeply, unquestionably qualified to serve as President by way of her vast years of Washington experience, versus the narrative some see as critical for progressives, that she is a tireless advocate for social justice and a tenacious agent for change.
And with her election chances now hinging largely on her ability to overcome persistent negative numbers on the issue of her trustworthiness, Clinton must also convince American voters that she is not the same Clinton often portrayed by Republicans and her adversaries on the left that she is a chilly manipulator and evader of truth. Recent polls by NBC News and CBS News show that nearly two thirds of Americans consider her untrustworthy, and regard Trump as more truthful than Clinton—a troubling circumstance for which top Democrats and Clinton strategists hope to overcome by attacking Trump more directly and forcefully.
On the issue of the economy, and with his legacy now linked inextricably to her political future, Clinton walked a delicate, sometimes politically complex path, seeking to avoid an outright repudiation of Obama, her former boss, while also acknowledging that the economy has far to go in terms of recovery and improvement after the Great Recession.
“Too many people haven’t had a pay raise since the crash,” she told the audience, “There’s too much inequality, too little social mobility, too much paralysis in Washington, and too many threats at home and abroad.”
Clinton sought to redirect quickly toward the positive.
“But just look at the strengths we bring as Americans to meet these challenges,” she added.
Clinton sought to thread the fabric of two narratives, one of an economy greatly improved since the darkest days of the Great Recession, and the other of the much-needed work ahead. After reciting a litany of economic measure showing an improved economy, including an increase in jobs and a wider availability of health insurance, she pivoted toward the concerns of many Americans who worry about their economic future.
“But none of us should be satisfied with the status quo,” she said, “not by a long shot. We’re still facing deep-seated problems that developed long before the recession and have stayed with us through the recovery.”
Clinton retraced her steps as a child and teen, along with the steps of her grandparents and parents, including her grandfather who worked in a Scranton mill for 5 years, her father, Hugh Rodham, who enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor, and her mother—abandoned by her parents as a child and supporting herself as a maid and housekeeper. She also spoke of her joy as a mother and grandmother, seeking to close the gap between those who see her as cold and calculating and the story of the warmer side of the candidate.
But it was her role as change maker and as the torch-carrier for an agenda begun by Obama which she returned to frequently throughout her speech, her choice of targets clearly shaped both by her need to link herself to the positive aspects of Obama’s legacy, while also embracing the progressive issues brought to the discussion by her challenger Bernie Sanders.
“Wall Street should never ever be able to wreck Main Street again,” she said.
Clinton called this election “a moment of reckoning” for the nation, and suggested that voters must decide between the “dark vision” presented by Donald Trump, and the forward-looking scenario for the United States, one in which the progress of the last eight years can be carried forward.
When it was over, Clinton’s speech was reviewed largely as a success by the commentators who had been present in the arena, though all conceded that Clinton can sometimes produce different results with voters on television than in person, the result in part of her difficulty reaching voters at an emotional and personal level. Still, her acceptance address was an effective recap and crescendo to the headliner speeches of the previous 24 hours, and even Clinton’s adversaries acknowledged that her speech may have sealed the deal with many doubtful or wavering progressive Democrats in Philadelphia, especially among those who had faithfully supported Sanders.
The political artillery between Trump and Clinton opened up full force in the two days after the convention, an indication of the possible ferocity of a campaign just now getting started. With only 100 days left before the general election, the stakes are high for both in a race still showing a close margin.
A new poll by Reuters/Ipsos shows Clinton gaining on Trump, now holding a roughly six point lead over the businessman. Other recent polls by NBC show Clinton and Trump in a dead heat, a margin likely still reflective of Trumps slight bounce coming out of Cleveland the week before.
Some third party candidates have seen a surge in poll numbers in recent weeks. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, in the same Reuters/Ipsos poll, now maintains about 5% support, a particularly strong showing reflective—some experts have argued—of disaffected Republicans now in search of an alternative place to lodge support. Green Party candidate Jill Stein now maintains about 1% support, but her campaign strategists hope to channel some former Sanders supporters in their column as well.
Related Thursday Review articles:
Obama Highlights a Night of Unity and Attacks on Trump; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; July 28, 2016.
Bill Clinton Highlights Night for Democrats; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; July 27, 2016.