PHILADELPHIA ― As a sales device, the Democratic National Convention here was as flawlessly staged as any in recent history.
Unlike last week’s Republican convention in Cleveland, where Trump drilled down into his base rather than reach out to skeptics, Team Clinton executed the classic “pivot” to the general election.
But conventions are just the start. In the age of social media and second-by-second news cycles, they are as evanescent as a tweet.
The real campaign has only just begun.
Here are the top things Clinton has to do (or avoid) to win what most Democrats here (inside and outside the Clinton team) think will be a tough race against an unpredictable foe.
Don’t Rely On The Media.
Despite declarations of scorn from the likes of The Washington Post editorial page (and The Huffington Post), the media is not going to ― nor can it ― throw Trump off the stage for his outrageous remarks on race, gender, immigration, religion or constitutional freedoms.
To be sure, there is plenty that is disturbingly out-of-bounds about Trump’s faux populism and authoritarian ignorance of and contempt for the norms laid down by the Founding Fathers here in 1787. President Barack Obama himself made that case Wednesday.
But television and the rest of “mainstream” media have a campaign to cover, profits to reap and, in the end, can’t be relied on to preemptively do the work that Democrats must do themselves. To many, the coverage will reek of an infuriating “false equivalence” that Trump doesn’t deserve to get.
But he will. He’s the Republican nominee. Team Hillary must assume the worst about the role of the press. It’s usually a safe assumption.
Be Patient With The Bernie Band.
There are polls showing that most supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will, in the end, support Clinton.
But if Sanders’ mid-level leadership in Philadelphia is to be believed, the wooing and winning of Sanders voters is just beginning. And though it will drain money, time and staff, it’s best for Team Clinton to expect resistance and to work hard for every vote.
If they need a reminder of the importance of this vote ― beyond the fact that, in many ways, it is the future of the party ― they need look no further than the 2000 campaign. One reason Vice President Al Gore didn’t win outright? Democratic votes that drifted away to protest candidate Ralph Nader.
Clinton can’t afford to let the Green Party’s Jill Stein do the same thing.
Clinton came into the convention with toxic poll numbers on honesty and trust. Robby Mook, her campaign manager, said on Monday that improving those ratings was a main aim ― if not the main aim ― of the convention.
Thus, the long line of personal testimonials to Hillary’s character and personal qualities, a witness-by-witness trial by TV narrative.
It has taken a quarter-century in the limelight to create and anneal the hard image of Hillary Clinton. It is a difficult thing to ameliorate at this point, and she will never be universally beloved, but it is worth the effort. She is loathed to a frightening degree by Trump supporters ― there is more than a little misogyny involved ― and reluctant Democrats will be important for both campaigns.
The best way to improve her character numbers is to put her in personal, small-group settings, rather than having her shout slogans in large arenas. How to best do that is up to the media consultants to figure out. That’s why they are paid the big bucks.
Get With It On Social Media.
One way to do it is on social media rather than on TV. Even though Mook is only 36 and came into national politics on Howard Dean’s path-breaking, net-savvy campaign in 2004, Clinton’s effort ― like in 2008 ― seems stilted and dated.
This is now a win-lose matter.
Barack Obama rose as Facebook rose. Their careers began almost at the same time, which, in retrospect, seems no accident. The future president had 20 million followers by the time he was elected, and his campaign’s “over the back fence” theory of organizing and messaging fit the new medium perfectly. It was a match that made a president.
In this election, the social media Jedi thus far has been Donald Trump, using the rather antique, but still potent medium of Twitter.
Clinton has to do better, on some other platform.
It’s Still The Economy, Stupid.
James Carville’s slogan in the Bill Clinton campaign of 1992 still applies, even at a time when national security, terrorism, crime and policing dominate the news.
Sanders understood this better than Clinton did, and his campaign of sweeping promises on jobs, health and education nearly won him the nomination. Instead, it pushed Clinton and the Democratic platform toward making the same commitments.
But Clinton has yet to show that they are part and parcel of her own vision, and that her own career in social work and politics reflect that vision.
Though she calls her infrastructure program the “biggest jobs bill” in decades, she has yet to make it a convincing centerpiece of her campaign.
Mook is right to stress that her “lifetime of service” will now be used to “improve the economy for everyone.” That is the core sale she has to make. It is especially hard to do for a candidate for a party trying to hold the White House for a third consecutive term. Since World War II, only one candidate has done it, George H.W. Bush after Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Win Ohio And Pennsylvania.
Trump cannot win the presidency without winning these two states. No Republican has ever won without Ohio. And if Trump is going to win with blue-collar white votes, he must have Pennsylvania to make it work.
That’s why the Clinton post-convention bus trip will wind through the two states, ending in Columbus, and stopping in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Youngstown. That’s why the Joe Biden placards in the hall on Wednesday night featured a map of Pennsylvania and a star on the vice president’s hometown of Scranton.
Win The Suburban Swing.
Clinton has a chance to pick off legions of Republican-leaning “independent” college-educated voters in the suburbs. To stick with Ohio and Pennsylvania as examples, these voters are in the rings that surround cities such as Philadelphia, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Obama’s Trump-is-a-dictator argument, a matter of history and law, could work with such voters, as could appeals to those who find the GOP’s fear of science ― and Trump’s divisive language ― noxious enough to consider Clinton despite her flaws.
Boost Black Turnout.
African-Americans support Clinton overwhelmingly, and that was reinforced at the convention by Obama’s literal embrace of her. It was, said historian Michael Beschloss, by far the most enthusiastic endorsement of a successor by a sitting president in modern history.
But the turnout organization has to be there. The “numbers” out of the cities of Philadelphia and Cleveland, for example, have to be huge. Obama can help, but he may be busy in the suburbs, and the Clinton campaign can’t risk overusing him in the fall.
That’s where unions come in. An example: In recent elections, New York City transit workers have traveled to Philly to help with inner-city turnout. As long as they don’t talk about the Eagles and the Giants, it’s cool ― and seems to have worked.
Work With Latinos.
Here, the challenge is registration and on-the-ground operations. There is plenty of motivation, given Trump’s rhetoric and “proposals.” The goal will be to keep Trump below 30 percent of the Hispanic vote. And vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a legitimate Spanish speaker, is being assigned this duty.
Trump The Blue-Collar Vote.
In an odd way, Trump is almost impervious to attack ads. The din is so great, his claims are so outrageous, his behavior so caustic ― the whole package almost defies description, let alone careful dismantling.
Perhaps the best way to attack is to sow some doubt around the margins of his fervent base, which is angry, white, blue-collar workers.
How to do that? By calling him a deadbeat liar about his claims as a job creator and businessman. Clinton has NO private sector experience and claims none; but Trump can and should be evaluated in this way by testimonials from real people affected by his bankruptcies, bad deals, lawsuits, swindles and faux “university.”
Mega-billionaire Michael Bloomberg began that process at the convention, but the real way to pick off at least some of those voters is more ground-level, and doing that well is crucial.
When They Go Low, You Go High.
Michelle Obama’s operating philosophy is one that Hillary Clinton needs to adopt. She will be sorely tempted to get way, way down in the gutter with Trump.
But that is where he thrives ― and can win. She had better not go there.