Three events coming up have the potential to change the entire atmosphere of the general election for President – depending very much on how they are set up and how they play out. No one else seems to have thought about the contingent possibility of those three related events, so I’ll presume to take a shot at it.
The three events will take place at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July. They are: (1) the keynote address; (2) the address putting Hillary Clinton’s name into nomination for President; and (3) Clinton’s acceptance speech. These speeches – particularly the nominating and acceptance speeches – are usually pretty ho-hum. But this year they will signal whether the ensuing post-conventions campaign process will be muddy and inconclusive … or exciting, surprising political drama for the ages.
Signs so far from the Democratic side are that it will be the former: Hillary pontificates in a drab, policy-thick uninspiring dimension, and her Republican opponent bloviates in an alien, far-off, but vivid dimension, the two shouting past each other – to the perplexity of the rest of us.
Now that Hillary has sewn up the Democratic nomination (I am writing this on Memorial Day, 2016), we are getting evidence of her attitude to the overall contest. In very recent “survey” articles in one of our national newspapers, the Clintonians speak – a real pot pourri:
● Mrs. Clinton is pressing ahead with a conventional campaign echoing the 2012 themes used against Romney.
● Democrats suggest that the past few weeks have shown that Mrs. Clinton must become more agile and creative against Trump.
● Ken Salazar said the campaign should draw a sharp contrast between Trump’s shortcomings and Mrs. Clinton’s “potential to be [??] the most qualified person to be president in our lifetime.”
● Sen. Schumer is concerned that she lacks a comprehensive strategy to confront Trump, and has told Democrats that the campaign must bring on a senior staff member dedicated only to the Trump portfolio [??]
● High-profile female supporters pressed Mrs. Clinton’s advisers about her message – “Breaking Down Barriers” – and whether it needs to shift for the general election, but it was suggested that it will continue to be a part of the theme because Hillary believes we need to come together as a country in many ways.
● Hillary told CNN, “I have concluded that Trump is not qualified to be president” – but to many Clinton allies it felt like a tepid tactic from yesteryear.
● Her aides appear to be throwing ideas against a wall to see what sticks. An internal favorite is “Poor Donald,” with its implication that Trump is not nearly as wealthy as he lets on. (Jeez – an eight-grader could do better.)
● Trump has become a daily fixture on influential television programs. But Clinton remains leery of TV’s unscripted nature, appearing far less often than Trump and irking some bookers who complain about the difficulties of luring her on the air. (Read that again to get the true horror of its meaning.)
● According to aides, Hillary has a campaign that employs many methods of communication, including videos, respected surrogates and bilingual outreach [whatever that is]. Take that, Donald!
● “There’s always a challenge if you have one candidate who is not very cooperative,” said the moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
When you read through these items cold, you get a strong sense of a candidate adrift. “Conventional campaign.” “She must become more agile.” (Is there a gym for that?) She has “potential” (!?!) to be “the most qualified person to be president.” (Wow – Americans, let’s choose the least poorly qualified, or something.) “Lacks a comprehensive strategy to confront Trump.” “Tepid tactic from yesteryear.” “Throwing ideas against a wall.” “Leery of TV’s unscripted nature.” In today’s loopy audio-visual culture, that last comment is like a death sentence. Paging Nixon in his first debate against JFK…. Very Pirandellian: a candidate and her campaign in search of a clear and persuasive reason to be a candidate.
The Socialist Gorilla in the Room. Wait, here is something odd: nowhere in the articles above do the words “Bernie” or “Sanders” appear. Hillary and her people seem to have consigned Sen. Sanders to the deepest pit of oblivion – despite the unflagging political vitality of the man and his supporters. Isn’t that odd? Hillary has evidently decreed that he and his millions of supporters, presumably immune to the appeal of the personality of Donald Trump, are now vaporized. Well, in her mind, maybe, and in Debbie’s pine-borer beetle psyche, but not in the real world.
True, Bernie has gotten to acting especially churlish these days, more than he really ought to. It achieves nothing except to crank supporters’ nice enthusiasm up into a not-nice frenzy. But for anyone who happens to be a rather detached, smug, and arrogant politician such as Hillary and is facing a charismatic, media-savvy, wheeler-dealer demagogue, wouldn’t you want to get a case or two of what Bernie is drinking? Not Hillary, it is apparent, nor her minions. For them, there are two gorillas. They think they’ve killed the first one, and now need only – only – to fumble around until they happen upon a way to kill the other one standing in their way. Except – he isn’t standing; he’s moving.
Bernie is well within his rights (or is right) not to bow out before the convention. He believes that he owes that to the people who have supported him. He also believes in our country’s need for his “revolution,” although his repetitive bombast has failed to articulate sufficiently just what that means – more Trumpian than Clintonian in rhetorical style. Many millions of his supporters sort of, kind of know what he means. Actually, so do I.
The Current Run-up to the Convention. William Daley, a former chief of staff for President Obama, has attributed any early shortcomings in taking on Trump to Mrs. Clinton’s prolonged primary battle against Sanders. “The period between the [concluding] June 7 contests [New Jersey and California] and the July convention will reshape the race,” he said. One of the survey articles observes that “Democrats are no longer mocking Trump. Many of them seem determined instead to understand his appeal.”
Well, wouldn’t the six-week period between June 7 and the Convention be a good time to figure out Trump’s appeal? And … how to blunt it?
But wait. Doesn’t the Democratic side of the Dem-Rep divide already have a Trumpian avatar – albeit vaguely in style only, while not at all in policies? That would be Bernie Sanders. For months, we have been hearing from commentators how Bernie is a sort of mirror image of Trump in their supposed populist appeal. (Hillary being no populist by any stretch of the imagination.) Maybe, Mr. Daley, just maybe, you guys can make lemonade out of lemons. Maybe, just maybe, there is a way that Bernie and his dynamic can become the way to blunt Trump’s appeal. Because – as the Almighty is my witness – what we’re hearing from Hillary and her palace guard, and from noting their crabbed patterns of thought, just ain’t going to do it no matter how much Daley and Debbie and “aides” turn and strain.
So, will Hillary and her guard spend the next seven weeks accepting that Bernie beat her in California, or almost did? And decline to crow about New Jersey? Will she herself – the managerial and transactional beast par excellence – be able to welcome, however gingerly, the transformative and inspirational culture of Bernie and his crowd? Be able to rethink her arrogance, her smugness, and her sense of entitlement (“the potential to be the most qualified person to be President”?), and so, in an act of gracious and memorably dramatic statesmanship, welcome Bernie and the Sanders mob as colleagues in the campaign for the Presidency? Hmmm….
At the Democratic Convention. If there were to be any accommodation to any degree between a triumphant Hillary and a vanquished but unbowed Sanders, it would have to gestate before the convention. And except for leaks and rumors, it may not be publicly apparent. In my opinion, the things to watch for after the Convention opens, after the Sanders-ites make themselves noticed on the floor (or outside, à la Chicago), and after all the party flunkies and stuffed shirts get to spout off, are three:
1. The keynote address
2. The nominating speech
3. Hillary’s acceptance speech
The Three Tell-tale Events. I believe that those speeches – in combination, but especially Hillary’s speech – will tell the tale about to unfold. Will her campaign be managerial? Or will it be infused with some of the Sanders transformative excitement? Will there be a rapprochement of any sort to thrill the non-Trumpians of the nation, the independents or fence-sitters or whoever? How that turns out may even mean, Will Hillary become president of our country, or … not. I know, I know. One can only hope, against the odds presented by a sadly calcified persona.