Spoiler alert: Scott Baio does not thrust Trump into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The conventions are over. We are approximately one hundred days away from November 8th. In my world, the party conventions are the March Madness of rhetoric and public address. They are a whirlwind of sound bites, gaffes, hashtags and spin. As such, the question is now, of course, what did the conventions do for each of the candidates?
Juxtaposing this year's RNC to the DNC is akin to comparing a karaoke performance at the local County Fair, to a headlining act at Madison Square Garden. Yes, the RNC was that bad--and, yes, the DNC was that good. Let's quickly review: the RNC consisted of angry mob chants (lock her up), the conjuring of Hillary as a devil-worshiper, Malania "borrowing" Michelle's words, Mark Rubio literally dialing it in and Ted Cruz denouncing Trump on the world stage. And, yes, Scott Baio. The DNC had a rough start. The convention was overshadowed with the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Shultz, and the Bernie-or-Bust supporters threatening party disruption. However, by the end of day four, Debbie was a distant memory, the majority of the party was unified, and the rocky start was replaced with four days of, perhaps, some of the best political speeches ever delivered, in our Country's history. While understanding the big picture is critical, when analyzing the speeches of Trump and Hillary, we must also know the context.
Going into the convention, Trump was trailing Hillary by 4-7 points, nationally, depending on which poll you cite. In addition to trailing nationally, Trump supporters were presented with a startling poll: Trump was polling zero percent with African Americans in the swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio. In order to catch Hillary, between now and November, Trump would have to win over more African American and Latino votes than both John McCain and Mitt Romney. He would also need to flip numerous swing states, which the majority are already leaning blue. In other words, he needed to pull off a gaffe-free and close-to-perfect convention. As we know, that did not happen. Trump and the RNC left a wide window for the DNC machine to fly through. Not only did the RNC view like an SNL skit, more importantly, the Republicans ceded key rhetorical ground, which the DNC capitalized on, in spades.
We will begin with the RNC. Trump's speech was dark--perhaps best exhibited by the meme of Trump as Emperor Palpatine. Ronald Reagan's shining city on a hill was nowhere to be found. We were in a dark, dystopian and dismal place. On the other side of the aisle, we had Hillary riding the coattails of Obama's audacity of hope. It could not be a more stark contrast. Trump painted himself as the savior, where he alone, could save our country. Hillary, in contrast, reminded the nation that we are all in this together--working alongside the American people, in the well-known village. Which narrative would prevail?
Hillary, of course, had the advantage of following Trump. At the same time, she had both the advantage and disadvantage of following President Obama, Vice President Biden and the First Lady, Michelle--the advantage, as they all delivered, perhaps, the best speeches of their lives, which functioned to propel the DNC back into the lead after the RNC post-convention bump. And, simultaneously, Hillary had the disadvantage, precisely because they delivered the best speeches of their lives--which Hillary, then, had to follow. No easy task, especially for a political figure that does not possess the same history of poetic oratory as POTUS and FLOTUS. She needed to bring her A game.
There were three things that Hillary needed to do to protect and propel her lead: she needed to address the trust factor with the American people, provide specific remedies for our nation's problems, and talk about how we are stronger as a nation together, rather than as a sole savior. Let us first detail how Hillary skillfully crafted a narrative of a world where not only Hillary can, indeed, be trusted, but one where Trump is, in fact, disqualified, altogether, for the role as Commander-in-Chief. How did she accomplish this?
She accomplished this task by presenting herself as a slow-and-steady candidate, versus a reckless loose cannon. The pre-speech video, narrative by Morgan Freeman, was brilliant. Audience members were deluged with powerful images of her forty-five years as a public servant. Chelsea reminding us that Hillary always said, "service is about service." These images painted her as a workhorse, one that is "cool" and steady with "resolve," in contrast to Trump, the show horse, full of "bigotry and bombast." The number one Achilles heel, for Hillary, a lack of trust, was turned on its head and attached to Trump's personae. She constructed his identity, through Kennedy's words--as "a little man filled with fear and pride," -often how wars begin. She asked Americans to consider: if Trump does not have the temperament to handle a Presidential campaign, how can he handle the role of Commander-in-Chief? In other words: "A man you can bait with a tweet, is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons." These narratives put Americans in the position of knowing that they may not have complete trust in Hillary, but a choice for Hillary is a better choice than a man who is disqualified and unfit for the role.
The next task that she needed to accomplish was countering the narrative of Trump, as the sole savior, to save America from the dismal abyss. She skillfully led us through Trump's failed business dealings--alluding to his litany of bankruptcies, his Atlantic City unpaid workers, and failed business deals. Can he do this, alone, she implies? However, in addition to creating a veil of doubt, she went one step further. Hillary painted the figure of the lone ranger, the Western Hero, riding in to save the townspeople from their problems not only as risky, but as un-American: "Remember: Our Founders fought a revolution and wrote a Constitution so America would never be a nation where one person had all the power. Two hundred and forty years later, we still put our faith in each other." She then weaved Trump-the-businessman into an un-American businessman: "He also talks a big game about putting America First. Please explain to me what part of America First leads him to make Trump ties in China, not Colorado. Trump suits in Mexico, not Michigan. Trump furniture in Turkey, not Ohio. Trump picture frames in India, not Wisconsin. Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again--well, he could start by actually making things in America again. For Americans the picture was beginning to come into focus: Trump is unqualified and un-American. Onto the next theme.
Stronger together. Hillary reminded us that Trump's discourse is steeped in rhetorics of fear. Appealing to an audience's fears is a powerful rhetorical strategy. Hillary is betting that strength, through unity, is stronger. Here, she pulls from FDR, to rebuke Trump. She counters Trumps xenophobic discourse in relation to minority groups: "We will not build a wall, we will build an economy." We will "not ban a religion, we will work with our allies to defeat terrorism." In other words, "love trumps hate"--or, more specifically, as she operationalized it for us: strength, through unity, trumps fear, rooted in isolation. Hillary's themes, taken together, presented the Democrats as the American, patriotic, strong and unified party--grounds that the Republicans have had strongholds on, for decades, until the last day of the DNC. Until November 8th, of 2016.
Yes, there are one hundred days of campaigning left. I contend, however, that the narrative arc is solidified. I assert that Hillary's hopeful world--a world where America is trusted, unified, strong and patriotic, will outweigh Trump's dark, reckless, isolated, and un-patriotic future. If I am proven to be wrong . . . well, then Scott Baio needs a better agent.