For Democrats in Philadelphia and around the U.S., it was definitely a night to remember. It reached its peak at the very end, in the embrace that symbolized the passing of the mantle from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton. But its essence was a concentrated and harsh attack on Donald Trump, the likes of which he has not experienced before.
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If Democrats leave their convention on Thursday evening far more united than anyone could have expected, it is mainly because of their collective fear that Trump might yet win the November elections.
Obama described Trump as a demagogue and a divider, Joe Biden as clueless and therefore dangerous. His potential replacement as vice president, Tim Kaine, portrayed Trump as a charlatan and a deceiver. But the most damaging of all the assaults on the GOP contender came from the guest star, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who didn’t even bother to hide his reservations about the worldview of the his Democrat hosts and who kept his endorsement of Clinton to the bare minimum.
But Bloomberg spoke to Trump as a big billionaire to a minor one, as a media mogul whose business acumen is widely acknowledged to a real estate tycoon whose financial success is a matter of some debate. Bloomberg dismantled what Trump has described as his main qualification for the presidency: his success at business and experience as a CEO. Not only was he less successful then he claims, Bloomberg said, but Trump also went bankrupt, refused to pay his employees and made life miserable for his customers.
“I'm a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one!” Bloomberg said, to the obvious delight of his listeners.
Bloomberg’s indictment could potentially cause Trump serious damage. HIs compelling narrative as a man whose conscience compelled him to make sure that the next president will be, unlike Trump, “sane and competent” could help persuade moderate Republicans and independent voters, who don’t really like or trust Clinton, to hold their noses and vote for her in order to save America. Without the support of relatively well to do, white centrist and center-right voters, Trump doesn’t stand a chance.
And bear in mind that this concerted onslaught capped a day that was already terrible, horrible, no good and very bad for Trump, even by his own standards. Trump’s remark on Wednesday morning in Florida in which he seemed to be urging the Russians to hack U.S. computers in order to locate the 30,000 missing emails from Clinton’s private server literally shocked the nation, or at least the part of it that listened to the news that day.
For many ears, Trump’s shocking exhortation of Moscow was somewhere on a scale between crossing a red line and outright treason, as well as a sort of backhanded confirmation that Vladimir Putin does indeed support Trump and want him elected.
Republicans, who seem to have been taken hostage by Trump in the wake of his formal nomination in Cleveland last week, either stayed silent or tried to mumble something about how the whole thing was a joke. Democrats, on the other hand, went to town on Trump’s provocation, which fell like manna from heaven into Wednesday night’s speeches in Philadelphia, including the “expert” testimonies given by former Defense Secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta and retired Rear Admiral John Hutson, who more or less classified Trump as a clear and present threat to national security.
But the piece de resistance of the night, no doubt, was yet another in the long line of historic and memorable speeches rendered by Obama, exactly 12 years to the day since his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston, which made him into an overnight sensation and cast him as potential presidential material. He may be older, wiser and grayer now, but Obama nonetheless enthralled his listeners at the Wells Fargo Center, where the convention is being held, and brought many of them to tears.
Obama tried to reverse the dark and distressing picture of America today that Trump painted in Cleveland last week and to supplant it with a far rosier and more optimistic portrait. In many ways, this was a reversal of the traditional rolls between the blindly patriotic right and the obsessively nitpicking left.
After all, one of the factors in the victory of the Republicans’ No. 1 hero Ronald Reagan was his optimistic “shining city on a hill” vision in 1980, which contrasted with the infamously depressing “malaise” speech that President Jimmy Carter had made a year earlier. And to have a Democratic convention interrupted by repeated calls “U.S.A., U.S.A.” only made Wednesday night’s session that much more surrealistic, as in Superman’s bizarro world.
Obama gave Clinton as warm an endorsement as she could have expected, saying she was more qualified than any man or woman candidate for the presidency had ever been. And while there’s no doubt that he truly believes she is a good candidate for the job and that he genuinely fears a Trump triumph, Obama is also motivated by his own self-interest: he knows that Trump would dismantle his legacy in the shortest time possible.
For the sake of posterity, therefore, Obama detailed his social, economic and diplomatic achievements, which a majority of Americans, according to his rising approval ratings in the polls, have finally started to appreciate.
Joe Biden also had a rousing appearance, in what could very well be his last speech before such a large party forum and in front of a prime time audience of millions. Biden, who has become a much-loved father figure for Democrats, spoke as an average middle-class Joe, as is his wont, in order to make clear that Trump “doesn’t have a clue” how to keep his promise to improve the lives of middle class Americans, and in fact, doesn’t have a clue, period.
The crowd then enthusiastically took up the cry “not a clue, not a clue” as a response to last week’s “lock her up, lock her up” slogan that Republican delegates repeatedly shouted at any mention of Clinton. The newspaper of another Jewish billionaire from New York – Mort Zuckerman’s Daily News – went straight to the source: “Lock him up” was their headline, on a front page that featured Trump and Putin and Trump’s controversial statement on the stolen emails.
Kaine was less inspiring, and his repeated exhibitions of his otherwise impressive fluency in Spanish has already started to annoy some commentators. But when Kaine joined the onslaught against Trump by doing an impression of the GOP candidate’s staple “Believe me,” he had the crowd eating out of his hand. Do you really believe him, Kaine asked, and the audience roared back with a resounding no.
It was another superbly orchestrated night for the Democrats, replete with human dramas, superior oratory, top-notch videos and major-league celebrities. Comparison to the Republican confab last week is like matching up the Oscars with the Little League prize ceremony at your local JCC. That only makes Clinton’s life harder: her speech on Thursday evening cannot be seen as significantly inferior to these that preceded her.
After they weathered the Wikileaks/DNC scandal that overshadowed the convention’s opening day, after they quelled the rebellious Bernie fans and brought Sanders himself into the fold, after their top leaders exhibited unity, resoluteness and a will to take on Trump with brute force, the last thing the Democrats need is a weak appearance by Clinton that will send their delegates home with a sense of disappointment.
If that happened then Trump, whose candidacy was already supposed to implode under the weight of his persistent missteps and provocations, could actually go up in the polls, yet again.