Unconventional Wisdom Philadelphia

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist


* The Democratic convention offered quite a valedictory for both President Obama and Vice-president Biden. Their boffo speeches left a high bar Hillary to clear. Did she? She is not an orator in a league with Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, but she was comfortable in the spotlight and got her points across. She can’t seem to help herself from playing to the room rather than to the country watching television. The TV cameras did occasionally pan to Bernie Sanders–who looked like he had eaten some bad fish. Chelsea Clinton played the Trump kids to a draw. Bill Clinton looked like the cat who swallowed the canary.

*   Bill Clinton hasn’t lost his touch. He still has the ability to lure cable pundits into bursts of psycho-babble. His 2016 speech wasn’t nearly as effective as his 2012 stem-winder for Obama, but this year, his was a very different task.   And he gave a good “First Spouse” speech, managing to convey lots of positive information about Hillary and to display her human side. Probably, the greatest relief for the Hillary campaign was that the Sanders folks didn’t loudly boo or disrupt the former President’s speech. There is no telling how “prickly Bill” would have reacted.

* Michelle Obama may not like the rough and tumble of electoral politics very much, but she is a natural.   Her Monday night speech was the WOW of the convention and overshadowed both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.   The full throated endorsements and Trump-bashing by Senators Warren and Sanders will, however, go a long way toward assuring that the lion’s share of Sanders voters will be voting for Hillary in November.

* There was a strong sales pitch from President Obama, too. After all, it’s his legacy that’s on the line. He obviously relishes speaking to big, friendly audiences and it showed. In his virtuoso performance, he managed to put a highly positive spin on the last eight years and to validate Hillary’s candidacy, while picking Donald Trump and Trumpism to pieces.

*   Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator, but Joe Biden has become the Great Connector. His speech was another example of his ability, corny rough edges and all, to reach out to working class voters. It’s difficult to say whether he can transfer that appeal to Hillary Clinton. It’s hard not to think that Biden would be running 15-20 points ahead if he were the Democratic nominee.

* Tim Kaine could be the love child of Joe Biden and Hubert Humphrey. His speech was fine, but he had the bad luck of being sandwiched between Joe Biden and Barack Obama. Still he scored points by projecting normalcy and doing a good job of taking it to Trump.

* Showcasing former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, erstwhile Republican and current political independent, was smart political strategy and sent a powerful message to Independents (But, really, how many were tuned in?). It was widely speculated that Bloomberg was considering an independent presidential run if Trump and Sanders were nominated. With Hillary getting the nod, it isn’t a big surprise that the former New York Mayor endorsed. Nonetheless, it is interesting that Bloomberg didn’t focus on his gun control advocacy, but instead leveled a frontal assault on Trump. He particularly skewered the Trump claim of being a great businessman.   Will we see Bloomberg pop up in Clinton campaign ads? Yeah—not to mention on Donald Trump’s enemies list. (“Mealy-mouth Mike?”)

* One of the most consequential lines of the Democratic National Convention may be Sarah Silverman’s admonition to the “Bernie or Bust” people that “you’re being ridiculous.”   It’s great fodder for social media and sends a strong message to millennials. One Clinton vulnerability is the possibility that many young Sanders supporters won’t vote in November or will cast ballots for the Green Party or Libertarian candidates. Some Sanders supporters, including actress and California delegate Susan Sarandon, insisted they’d vote for GOP nominee Donald Trump.   We can expect that Silverman and other hipster icons will be saturating the Internet with pro-Hillary and anti-Trump messages.

* It seemed like the Clinton-Sanders negotiations over the climax of the roll call vote were more complex than the Iran nuclear deal. The Sanders delegates got their votes counted—and recorded for posterity. In the end, Bernie didn’t call for Hillary’s nomination by acclimation, but sort of implied it. Bottom line is that nobody outside the convention bubble really cares. But the Clinton people knew that Bernie and his peeps cared—and Hilllaryworld blinked, in another attempt to promote kumbaya.

* Talk about unforced errors. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe more than hinted that Hillary Clinton would support the TransPacific Trade Pact (TPP) with just a few tweaks. Clinton has used her newfound opposition to TPP to counter anti-trade rhetoric from both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.   It is clearly an issue she would like to finesse, since both Sanders and Trump have been loudly blaming NAFTA and other trade agreements for causing everything from the loss of manufacturing jobs and lower U.S. wages to the heartbreak of psoriasis. The Clinton camp has clearly concluded that explaining why critics are wrong is way too complicated and risky. Instead, she has joined the anti-TPP chorus, although not very convincingly. Governor McAuliffe picked the wrong time to stir up this hornet’s nest by volunteering that Clinton’s feet really weren’t in concrete concerning trade negotiations. The Governor may have thought he was making casual conversation, but these days, everybody is the media, everything is on the record and winds up on the Internet.

* On the other hand, Donald Trump did McAuliffe and Clinton a favor by commandeering media coverage and seemingly inviting Russia to hack Clinton’s private server. The kerfuffle over McAuliffe’s remarks could have dominated the news cycle if not for Trump’s attempt at counter-programming the Democrats’ convention.

* Also in the “what were they thinking” category was the Democratic National Committee’s meltdown in the wake of the release of hacked e-mails that lent credence to Sanders’ charge that the DNC tilted Hillary. Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz unraveled, while her staff came off as the gang who can’t shoot straight. It is hard to believe that these clowns put all that snarky stuff in emails. Don’t they know that’s what noisy bars and outdoor parking lots are for? The first rule of politics these days is that anything that is written down or recorded is on the record and fair game.

*   Code Pink diehards stepped on Leon Panetta’s forceful denunciation of the Trump-Russia connection. Were they mad about killing Ben Laden? With Bernie pushing his folks to lay off the Clintons, they were apparently looking for someone else to abuse. To hear TV’s talking heads, you would have thought the California delegation was all “Bernie or Bust.” In fact, there was a solid Clinton majority on the delegation, but the California Nurses Association contingent made a lot of noise.

* Should old grudges be forgot? California Governor Jerry Brown—the bane of candidate Bill Clinton in 1992–delivered a full frontal attack on GOP climate change denial and a full throated endorsement of Hillary Clinton. When asked about how Clinton, the political veteran, could be a change agent, Brown pointed out that he was elected Governor on a change platform after having served two terms as the Golden State’s Chief Executive over 30 years ago.

* In the end, the contrast between the two conventions couldn’t be more stark. Republicans were armed with verbal grenades and stink bombs, while the Democrats were using vocal stilettos and higher-toned rhetoric. This week’s cast included a parade of political all-stars, high visibility entertainers and appealing personal stories.   The GOP conclave featured TRUMP, TRUMP and more TRUMP–plus the Donald’s kids, a Mike Pence cameo, prosecutors Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, and Scott “Chachi” Baio.

* The Republican convention laid bare a GOP weakness. Trump and his party don’t have anybody who is widely popular, who has a following that might be mobilized for the fall campaign, and who could help counter Trump’s record-high unfavorable ratings. The Democratic convention showed that Clinton—herself in record unfavorable territory—can call on popular character witnesses, like the Obamas and Biden (political establishment though they may be).

* Overall, the last night of the convention was a well-choreographed show that included a strong presence of military leaders and heroes, law enforcement representatives and others with appeal to moderates, independents, undecided voters and disaffected Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech capped a convention that brought Democrats–or at least most Democrats–together and painted a stark contrast to Donald Trump. What began, on Monday with rude booing, by Thursday morphed into the picture of unity that the Dems need and so desperately wanted.

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