August 12th, 2020


In Philadelphia, Democrats Welcome And Fear A 'Rocky' Convention

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published July 26, 2016

At this time a week ago, we looked at what Donald Trump and Republicans could look forward to in Cleveland.

This week, it's Hillary Clinton's turn.

Here are four observations about what will be a big moment, for the Democratic sisterhood, in the City of Brotherly Love.

How The Times Have Changed. The 1992 Democratic National Convention was a national coming-out party for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

What stands out from that show, other than Fleetwood Mac: it was better choreographed than past Democratic outings; Kennedy nostalgia was rampant; on the night of the roll-call vote, Clinton took an unscripted two-block walk from a nearby viewing party for a surprise pop-in on the delegates -- a subtle way to play up his youth and Kennedy-like "vigah".

The 2016 Democratic National Convention isn't an introduction so much as it is a culmination -- of Hillary waiting eight years (some would contend, even longer) to seize the prize and she and her husband at the top of their party's pyramid for nearly a quarter of a century now.

In that regard, it's an oddball convention.

Democrats venerate new-generational aspiration -- John F. Kennedy, Clinton and Barack Obama all 47-and-younger in their candidacies. Hillary, who turns 69 in October, is the party's oldest first-time nominee since James Buchanan all the way back in 1856.

With age comes wisdom. In Philadelphia, we'll see if the Democrats' elder matron can generate enthusiasm.

Can They Put On A Happy Face? I'm not a fan of playing the media-bias card, one wonders if the Cleveland narrative -- can the nominee unite a divided party -- deservedly is the same in Philadelphia.

Bernie Sanders gets to address the nation on Monday night. Not that he'll choose to burn down the arena (gee, can't think of a runner who'd do that?).

But if Sanders decided to play village arsonist, he wouldn't lack for kerosene: the addition of Virginia Sen. Kaine to the ticket was interpreted by one progressive activist as "a very pronounced middle finger" to Sanderistas; the Wilileaks dump shows the party establishment was out to nail Bernie all along.

Republicans can point to Cleveland and the 1976 convention in Kansas City as instances of a divided party. For Democrats, it's 1980 in New York (Ted Kennedy doing his best to upstage Jimmy Carter), 1972 in Miami and 1968 in Chicago (the latter two were especially hot messes).

One reason why the party will do its best to put on a happy face: this poll indicating that the American public sees Democrats as more on the same page (six in ten registered Democrats think their party in unified, up eight points from May; eight in 10 registered Republicans think their party is divided).

Who's The Closer? And by "closer", we mean the speaker who'll come out of the bullpen and make the best case for Clintons' candidacy.

> You might think the honor would go to Bill Clinton, who'll grace the stage on Tuesday night. After all, he did provide this invaluable service to Barack Obama back in 2012 (here's the speech).

Two cautionary notes: (1) Clinton is at his best when explaining defending fellow Democrats -- but no so much his wife; (2) closing in on his 70th birthday and looking frailer than he did in 2012 and in previous elections, a former president who governed from the middle is both a physical and policy reminder of the bygone days of "triangulation".

The more likely choice: President Obama.

Why? Hillary Clinton's fortunes sink or swim on her ability to turn out the Obama coalitions from 2008 and 2012. Her husband can't do it; nor can her running mate (more on that in a minute).

That leaves it to Obama to transfer his pixie dust. And that's one of the more interesting unknowns of this election -- Democrats with Obama blessing didn't fare well in his two midterm referenda; does the brand work better for the woman who hopes to succeed him?

Breakout Star? The Republican show in Cleveland was notable for the drama caused by Trump's one-time rivals: Ohio Gov. John Kasich was everywhere other than the convention; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio beamed in his speech from back home.

As for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: he may have been Cleveland's "breakout star" in that his self-serving speech may have broken the back of his presidential future.

Ok, back to Philadelphia. If you're looking for a shining star, start with the runner-ups in Hillary's veepstakes. My choice: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

On paper, Booker is a political Superman (though not without his critics): star football player at Stanford; Rhodes scholar and Yale Law; former Newark mayor and Facebook and Twitter favorite.

And, befitting a superhero, there are the many anecdotes of Booker saving lives -- talking a suicidal Stanford off the roof, pulling women out of burning homes, rescuing frozen dogs, and so forth.

Why did Hillary bypass Booker? Or, for that matter HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown -- all choices that would have resonated more strongly with the party base?

In a word: caution.

I've seen a poll of Clinton's vice-presidential short list. Warren had the highest positive and negatives and the lowest number of undecideds. Perhaps Hillary World decided she was too polarizing.

Kaine and Brown had virtually the same numbers. Booker was more popular, with a slightly higher negative.

Then again, with Kaine there is no messy Senate replacement -- Virginia's governor is Democratic, but not so in Massachusetts, Ohio, or Virginia. There's no chance of Kaine outshining or upstaging his running mate.

Besides, the Clintons might have been harkened back to the good old days when non-liberal white southern males were in vogue on Democratic tickets.

In other words, Kaine was a safe pick for a caution-driven Hillary Clinton. Labor and pro-choice groups were quick to praise the pick. Brace yourself for several days of this kind of media swooning.

Will Hillary conquer Philadelphia? Don't expect one-armed push-ups, her working a Trump speed bag or the candidate dashing through the streets of Philly like Rocky Balboa.

Besides, that's about a 50k run -- believe it or not, longer than Trump's acceptance speech.

Rocky didn't win the belt in his first bout. Then again, he was a populist counter-puncher with a streetwise common touch -- something Hillary Clinton would love to be.

Keep the boxing metaphor in mind as you watch the Democrats' four days in Philadelphia. Hillary's no Rocky. We'll soon see just how good of a one-two she and her corner can deliver.

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.