Sunday, July 31, 2016

Yes, Trump Got a Convention Bounce, But It Is Fast Disappearing

Tom is back with a look at some numbers, the Trump "convention bounce"...

We have enough information to assess the “convention bounce” for Donald Trump, and the answer is:  just under 4 points, a little less than the 5-point norm for a “challenger.”  We compared the three polls (Economist, CBS and CNN) that were taken over the weekend between the GOP and Democratic conventions with their pre-GOP convention counterparts, and found the following:

Pre-GOP Convention
Post-GOP Convention

What is interesting about these results is that the 3.7-point gain by Trump did not come at the expense of Hillary Clinton, who held ground.  Rather, Trump appeared to win over some uncommitteds.

Trump is generally receiving low marks for his convention, with loads of black marks, from Melania Trump’s plagiarism of Michelle Obama; a slew of D-List celebrities including Scott Baio and Natalie Gulbis; the lack of any entertainment value whatsoever from a man who promised the same, and Ted Cruz’s very prime-time display of disunity.  The only theory for the positive bounce that makes sense is that some undecideds were quite taken with the Trump kids, who performed well, and Trump himself, who, in a scripted speech complete with teleprompters, did a marginally passable imitation of an actual candidate.  But note again that, despite four days of relentless assaults, Hillary Clinton’s numbers were unchanged.

Keep in mind that these polls preceded the highly-acclaimed Democratic Convention.  I am quite certain – and will be back in a few days with the analytics once enough polls come in – that Hillary will be rewarded with a serious bump for her efforts.  The DemCon was an amazing show, full of A-List politicians at the top of their rhetorical games, the Murderer’s Row of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden; strong endorsements from the leaders of the disaffected left-wing, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; the remarkable Michelle Obama; and memorable moments from unexpected sources, most notably rising star Senator Cory Booker, General John Allen, activist Anastasia Somoza and the indomitable Khizr Khan.

“Indomitable” literally means “impossible to subdue or defeat,” and yet Donald Trump is now attempting to diminish the Khan’s with vitriol that represents, almost impossibly, a new low for him.  He has attacked Ghazala Kahn for not speaking while at the convention podium, and said, in response to Khizr Kahn’s charge that he had made no sacrifices for this country, that he indeed had, by “working very, very hard” – as if that somehow paralleled the loss of a child.  As this is written, he is being excoriated for attacking the Kahn’s, and Khizr Kahn himself has challenged Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to renounce him – a challenge currently being met with an uncomfortable silence.

The DemCon even had the type of star power that Trump had promised and failed to deliver, with Paul Simon, Katy Perry and Demi Lovato all performing topical hits live for the adoring crowd, typical of a convention that was expertly choreographed, perfectly prime-timed and brilliantly executed.

And, of course, Hillary Clinton herself knocked it out of the park, receiving strong marks for her own persuasive case for her presidency, a confidently delivered pitch that was grounded in her long-standing values and extraordinary track record.  If you want to learn more about why she was so effective, read Steve’s piece, the best of the many that dissected Hillary’s valedictory:

The early post-DemCon polling has been strong.  RABA has Hillary up +15, and PPP has her +5.  We’ll wait until we have a full set of “bounce” results and report back then.  Expect her to have retaken a solid lead.

Friday, July 29, 2016

DemCon Day Four: Hillary Has Found that Childhood Bully. It's Payback Time.

Under pressure to deliver "the speech of her life," Hillary Clinton not only delivered, she seemed to relish it. Here is why.

No matter what the delegate count is, Robert’s Rules of Order is clear on one point: nothing is actually signed, sealed, and delivered until the candidate says, “Yes, I accept your nomination for President of the United States.”

Perhaps that is why, for this observer, it was at that moment and that moment only that the wave of history finally crashed on shore. I paused to think of the people who are no longer with us who would have so relished the moment, but not the obvious names – Eleanor Roosevelt or Susan B. Anthony. Rather, I thought about the women who showed up every day, at home or at an office; whether it be those who taught our children, fought in our military, or who entered our workplaces and made them become better, more fair, more open, and more accepting. For them, and for all of us, Hillary Clinton’s acceptance of her party’s nomination is, alone, a magnificent milestone.

What followed for me, however, was the further reflection that the state of our national discourse is so profoundly soiled that it had not even occurred to Jabba-the-Trump to even briefly acknowledge in the course of his one hour standing blovation that history that would soon be made by the opposition party. Even if the raw Machiavelli in him had made such a gesture for political gain in a shameless pander to the female audience that he must win over, it nevertheless would have had a startling impact. Indeed, it could have been the one thing people remembered from his infamous “Heart of Darkness” speech. Once upon a time, the opposing candidates carried, at worst, a grudging respect for each other, usually born of years in Washington that caused paths to cross and required cooperation and personal relationship. Let the First Anger Games begin.

Last night was, indeed, hyooooge for the Democratic Party. More than anything else, it was the night the Democrats went brazenly on the offensive, aggressively making a play for perceptual leadership in traditional Republican strongholds. Most notably, the Democrats made a direct run at positioning their candidate as the vastly more qualified Commander-in-Chief, highlighted by the ramrod tough, take-no-prisoners, full-throttle bark of a retired four star Marine general.  And, at a decibel count less than half of the General but perhaps twice the impact, the father of a Muslim soldier who sacrificed his life for his fellow American soldiers publicly shamed The Donald by reaching into his lapel pocket and offering Trump his own personal copy of the Constitution.

In our assessment of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech and the entire Republican Convention, we expressed mild amazement at the utter absence of effort to reach beyond the red-meat base and make a case to the undecided vote.  The entire Republican strategy was to energize the base to get out and vote.

In contrast, the Democrats seemed to have intentionally created a strategic sequence and pace to gradually expand their appeal over the full four days of their convention. Monday was clearly devoted to the sole task of unifying the party, led by unifier-in-chief Michelle Obama, who was followed on the stage by the two most ardent champions of the progressive left – Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.  But by Tuesday, the pivot had begun, and Bill Clinton’s warm personal portrayal of his wife started the turn toward undecided voters. On Wednesday, Michael Bloomberg overtly announced that his message was targeted beyond the arena to undecided voters at home.

On Thursday night, the Democrats handed the microphone to notable Republicans who had opted to support Clinton over Trump. Doug Elmets, former official in Reagan’s White House, jauntily channeled Lloyd Bentsen: “I knew Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan!”

Further still: Democrats as a rule are a little squishy about this whole church and state thing, right? Dating back to when John F. Kennedy needed to reassure voters that there would be no hot line to the Vatican, through secularists like McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry, the Dems have generally ceded all the fire and brimstone to Team Red.  Indeed, Barack Obama had to publicly disown the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. When Democrats talk about religion, it is generally to acknowledge that there are a lot of them, to say that they love them all, and then to move on as quickly as possible.

Well, this party may be led by a grandmother, but this is not your grandmother’s Democratic Party. This one saved a nice ripe time slot on Thursday night for Protestant Minister William Barber II, pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Disciples of Christ Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina. With a hunched intensity and oratorical skills that approach Dr. King himself, Reverend Barber made a surprisingly aggressive case that religion is now being manipulated and contorted to support political and economic ends. “Faith is used to justify hate and greed… religion is used to camouflage meanness.” This is a whole new chapter in the Democratic playbook.

And, to leave no stone unturned, the Democrats introduced Sheriff Lupe Valdez of Dallas County, Texas, who addressed the support of her city for the police force in the wake of the horrific shootings. The Democrats had taken a calculated risk, in that on Tuesday they had prominently featured the “Mothers of the Movement” – mothers of African American children slain in incidents of questionable police action and random gun violence – without appearing at the time to offer equal solace to the grieving families of murdered police.  Introducing Sheriff Valdez on Thursday night – to the far larger audience – appeared to be a carefully scripted part of the “pivot.”

As if to nail once and for all just how brilliantly this convention had been stage-managed, it was at exactly 10:03 – just after the broader network audiences had kicked in – that Chelsea Clinton stepped to the podium.  Much will be made of the “Battle of the High Powered Daughters Introducing their Parent, Candidate for President!”  I am sure that there is some Reddit sub-realm totally devoted to that topic, and yet I find myself uninterested in forcing that comparison. In an election where we are finally feeling a triumph of women’s rights, the very idea that the two candidates were each introduced by high-achieving, charismatic, independent, and articulate daughters should be cause for joy, not reason to trigger a Trumpian Miss Daughter of the Candidate Pageant.

If there’s any comparison to be made, the more interesting one is between Chelsea and Bill on Hillary. For all Bill did to fill in a picture of a side of Hillary that we did not know, it was still very much a tale of an incredibly dedicated idealistic woman who relentlessly pursues justice, fairness, and equal opportunity.  But it was Chelsea Clinton who managed to convey her mother’s full capacity for warmth, humor, caring, devotion, and uncompromising love.  For everyone who has ever tucked in an eighteen-month old with “good night, noises, everywhere,”  left a note for their child while reluctantly heading to the airport, or FaceTimed with a grandchild, Chelsea conveyed an authentic picture of a deeply committed and loving mother.

When Chelsea cued the mandatory video bio, it appeared that even God was endorsing Hillary Clinton. Surely it was God’s will that Morgan Freeman would play Him in Bruce Almighty, so Hillary’s media crew followed suit in their selection of a narrator. And nobody does God like Morgan Freeman.

And yet, I must admit that some days I think it must be unbearably hard to be Hillary Clinton. In fact, pretty much on all those days that end with “y.”

Consider how long this woman has stood in Teddy Roosevelt’s arena, the slings and arrows of routine fortune that greet her daily, the exceptionally public airings of her humiliation relative to the private, sotto voce nature of her greatest diplomatic achievements, the zealotry with which Republicans chant “Benghazi” as if any of their tribunals had actually uncovered wrongdoing; would not all that indeed be enough – only to find that in delivering the single most important speech of her life, she must follow the two greatest public orators in generations?

Hillary Clinton picked a good night to give the best speech of her life. She is not a Barack Obama or even an aging Bill Clinton, so, cleverly, she did not try to be.

We have said throughout our assessments of the debates, speeches, and impromptu media moments of this campaign that for all the words that may be spoken, television audiences take their cue from what they see. Television is a visual medium.

What people saw last night was a relaxed, confident, and very driven woman who appeared to be relishing her upcoming battle with Donald Trump. Smiling frequently, she allowed the humor we’ve been told about so often but so rarely witnessed to score direct hits on the Twit-Wit opposing her.

In the single quote that will spin for the full news-cycle, Clinton said, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” Hey, Hill: you can drop the mic on that one from now until November.

Chekov famously said that “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” Though that might appear to be the slogan of the NRA, it was actually a comment on the vital need for writers to plan narrative structure, and it is keenly relevant in assessing the Democratic Convention. Only on Thursday night did we realize how the events of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were in large measure rifles carefully hung on the wall that Hillary Clinton would reach for in her address. One by one, they went off.

The core narrative, for example, has been about caring for our children. It is Hillary’s self-professed life’s work.

Thursday night, we found out why. Her own mother had been horribly abandoned as a child, left alone to make itin the world. From that came Hillary Clinton's ferocious determination to lead a life of ensuring that no child should endure that same fate.

Perhaps even more significantly, we learned of an incident in Hillary Clinton’s own childhood that may carry still greater significance. We all can recall traumatic events – some truly large, some merely fearsome in the perception at that moment – that are deeply etched in our earliest memory. For Hillary, it was a moment when she was four years old and retreated back into her household in fear of bullies who had scared her outside. Once back inside, she had encountered her mother, who told her that she had to learn to deal with bullies. Her mother stiffened her resolve and sent her back outside.

Suddenly, the light bulb went on. We realized that Donald Trump is that bully – that in him, she sees that horrible bully who frightened her when she was four, and every oppressive tyrant she has encountered since.

And now she cannot wait to take the fight back to him. She cannot wait. On behalf of every girl, every child, every underprivileged person who has ever been forced to submit to arrogance, unfair advantage, and oppression, she cannot wait to fight Donald Trump.

Though she only mentioned his name a few times, this speech was, in aggregate, a broadside at Donald Trump. It was a warning that in his style and attitude going forth, he best beat a hasty retweet. The sub-text of Hillary’s fierce warning was plain to see: “You can bully that anemic bunch of patrician blowhards, all-hat-no-cattle cowboys, and prissy posers you stepped on in your Republican debates, but now you are going to be dealing with me.” Donald Trump may be an open book: overtly hostile, bad-tempered, and overtly cruel to others. But, beneath the surface, Hillary Clinton is also seething, though it is compartmentalized and focused like a laser beam. The First Anger Games have indeed begun, and the battle has been joined.

Selecting her weapon of choice, Hillary took the time to spell out her very specific policy proposals, often drawing the comparison with Trump’s undefined or ill-defined plans to “make America great again.” In another elegant jab of wit, she noted how long Trump had spoken without offering any real, concrete, substantive plans of action. “He spoke for seventy-odd minutes,” she said. Beat. “And I do mean odd. He doesn’t like talking about his plan.”

Point by point, Clinton put flesh to her plan to battle ISIS, her investments in job creation and infrastructure, and to ensure that “Wall Street will never wreck Main Street again.” Moreover, she rammed home that she had specific, detailed plans for how she would pay for the proposals she was making.

To close, Clinton went back once again to that gift that just keeps giving… Donald Trump’s own wondrous quotes.  In truth, Hillary played a bit fast and loose with a Trump quote when she attributed to him the line “I alone can fix it.” In fairness, it was actually part of a large quote about Trump’s assessment that the “system is broken.” Here, via Politico, is Trump’s quote in its full context:

  • "I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people who cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

The woman who insisted that “it takes a village” took Trump’s partial sentence and drove it across the Ben Franklin Bridge, up the Schuykill River, and back downtown past the Billy Penn statue. Only Donald Trump can do it, all by himself.

In Hillary Clinton’s world view, no one can make it alone.

Not the child abandoned by her parents.

Not the immigrants, not the targets of racism, not those singled out for religious persecution, not the victims of gender discrimination, not those oppressed by dictators, not the people ostracized for who they love, and not the four year old terrified by the bully.

That, she declared, is her battle. That, she explained, is her life’s work. That people, unified in common purpose, can work together to solve the most difficult, intractable problems. That people, working together, can achieve that more perfect union based on the truth that all people are created equal.That every child has the right and the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential. It was a heck of a speech, and it was delivered with passion and authenticity often not associated with Hillary Clinton.

When she closed, more balloons fell than there will be shards when the biggest glass ceiling finally falls.

Will that happen in November?

You know that four-year-old?

I’m with her.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

DemCon Day Three: Barack To The Future

Last night Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, and Tim Kaine loaded the bases, and the President of the United States hit one of the biggest Grand Slam Homers of all time.

For the past year, the extended and inexorable internecine battles in both political parties served to nurture a narrative of an America puzzled, neutered, and weakened, an America bowed before a new form of war with venomous tentacles too complex to defeat and inherent racial discord too endemic to excise.   

While this purported decay in our national soul was the stuff of daily Twitter rampages on the Republican side, the strident outrage of the Democratic left against the moneyed establishment – however justified – served to further blemish our national self-image.

Last night, in one of the most galvanizing speeches in the history of our nation, Barack Obama lifted the fog of partisan warfare and presented a clear picture of the United States of American as it exists in 2016. Using a rhetorical device that has been woefully untapped this campaign cycle – facts – Obama lanced the boil of fear, negativity, and hatred that festered in Cleveland and swelled to a toxic climax in Jabba the Trump’s infamous “Believe Me” speech last Thursday night.

By the time the President of the United States concluded last night, the American people were reminded that they are not a nation of cop haters or race-baiters, not a nation of smoldering dissenters and bitter resenters, not a nation whose dreams have fallen so far that we are ready to abandon who we are. 

Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States -- a man who has endured Republican challenges to his legitimacy as President and even as a citizen, a man whose foes have questioned his faith, a man whose very motivations, patriotism, and loyalty to the United States has been questioned by Donald Trump -- stood up last night, proud and tall, and insisted that we rise and heed the better angels of our nature.

It was an image for the ages: the still youthful and idealistic African American man meticulously documenting and enthusiastically championing the reasons for his faith in the goodness of America, in the wake of an over-privileged, under-researched, bloviating rich guy shooting from the hip about his perception of its failures, fears, and weaknesses.

Obama closed not with a mere endorsement of Hillary Clinton, but with an urgent appeal that his fellow citizens “reject cynicism and fear,” and “show the world that we still believe in the promise of this great nation.”  Hillary joined Obama on stage at 11:45 last night in a profoundly symbolic promise of continuity, closing a breathtaking evening in the history of the United States of America.

Barack Obama was clearly the most luminous star of the evening, but he was not the only citizen on the podium to make a profound impact.

Until last night, both parties -- in virtually every single speech, video, and gesture – had been relentlessly focused on their core constituencies. Both had felt that the most crucial role of the conventions was to ensure that their parties were united and energized to vote.

But last night -- in a moment rare if not unprecedented – an independent citizen directed his remarks precisely at the “undecided voters” in the television viewing audience. Michael Bloomberg proceeded to deliver one of the most scathing indictments of a major party nominee for president in modern history.  Bloomberg’s unique bio gives him extraordinary credibility. By any measure, he is a more successful businessman than Donald Trump; Bloomberg is also a highly regarded three-term mayor of New York, and had been widely encouraged to mount his own third-party run for the Presidency.

Michael Bloomberg ripped into Donald Trump like the velociraptor that gutted Wayne Knight’s entrails in Jurassic Park. “I’m from New York,” he said. “I know a con man when I see one.” He would further observe that “the richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy.” How explained his presence as an independent at a partisan event: “We must unite behind the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue.” And then there was the closer:  “Donald Trump is a risky, reckless, and radical choice” that America “cannot afford” to make.

As Bloomberg stared evenly into the camera, you could sense a certain level of awe in the arena, as if the more genteel white-wine spritzer and Lily Pulitzer liberals had accidentally wandered out to the barn and witnessed their first castration.  Earlier, a group of Broadway stars had turned out for an over-the-top reversion to wimpy, self-involved liberal preening, singing “What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love,” as if the battle for our national soul could be solved by opening up more Hamilton tickets. Bloomberg’s speech slammed the audience back in their seats and raised the gravitas meter to where it should be: looming crisis.

Make no mistake, the crowd loved Bloomberg, but it seemed like people were looking around the arena to see if the “niceness police” were going to appear, or wondering if some tv network censor was going to bleep Bloomberg for excessively nasty pejoratives.  But Mike Bloomberg takes no second seat in the “tell it like it is” billionaires club. Long before Michael Bloomberg was mayor, he made billions more than Trump by delivering the fastest, most comprehensive financial news on Wall Street, and Mike sure as hell doesn’t need an invitation from Donald Trump to eschew political correctness.

Tim Kaine, newly anointed VP candidate, settled any issue about whether he had been the right pick. It is true that Tim Kaine appears to have all the attack dog potential of an adorably fluffy and sad-eyed mini-schnauzer, but he flung himself into the task in a manner that was effective for him.  Here at BTRTN, we were pleased to see Kaine pick up on the exact same point we made in our write-up of Trump’s acceptance speech: that Trump constantly uses the phrase “believe me” to paper over his woeful lack of policy substance and rare deviation into accuracy.

It can be tough to be Joe Biden. He is such a big-hearted character, such an emotional bear-hug kinda guy. But somewhere along the way life decided that Joe was the Katherine Heigl character in Twenty Seven Dresses, a permanent bridesmaid in the wedding photos of history. And so again last night, Joe gave a wow of a speech: the public hug of a brother to Barack Obama, the sternest of warnings about the Trump Tower of Babble, and the apocalyptic need to unite behind Hillary Clinton. But dammit, it happened again! Followed to the podium by Bloomberg, Kaine, and Obama, Biden must have spent the after-party like the guy clutching the Oscar for Best Short Documentary Adapted for the Screen in a Foreign Language.

Much has been written about the fact that the political party that convened in Cleveland last week – let’s call them the TrumppublicandscrewBushKasichCruz Party – found unity in one and only one thing: a universal and borderline psychotic hatred for Hillary Clinton.

This week in Philadelphia, we’ve seen a Democratic party that has rifts, schisms, and passions, but that has clearly articulated hyoooooge areas of policy alignment and philosophical harmony.

But make no mistake: for all the hard-won Kumbaya on platform planks and all the espousal of fundamental party philosophy, Donald Trump is serving the exact same function in the Democratic Party that Hillary Clinton provides to Republicans. For whatever else they may or may not agree on, there is a galvanizing, growing realization that Donald Trump represents a force of evil and potential carnage to the United States of America that is becoming too frightening to contemplate.

Last night, the Democratic Party put together an astonishingly cohesive and comprehensive argument for why the election of Donald Trump would be devastating to the principles, reputation, and very democracy of the United States of America.

Thank you, Michael Bloomberg, for having the insight and the balls to call Trump a scam artist on national television. In a long career of principled service, this was one of your finest moments.

Tim Kaine, you are onto a key vulnerability in the Trump Reality Game Show: keep pointing out that every time he says “believe me,” it means, “I have no factual basis for the lie I just told.”

Barack Obama, thank you for your dignity and your grace, your uplifting smile and your radiant optimism. Thank you for leading our country through a brutally challenging period and delivering us at the end of your watch a stronger, healthier, and more vibrant nation than the one you inherited. Thank you for serving as our conscience through a period when new technologies, new enemies, and new vulnerabilities rendered historical precedent an incomplete guide.

Last night, Barack Obama delivered a forceful, comprehensive, and decidedly positive alternative view of reality to that which Donald Trump put forth in Cleveland.  Obama’s clarity, certainty, and optimism were informed by ideals and faith, to be sure. But in the end, he asked us to decide whether we should evaluate our world through Donald Trump’s opinions, or through the imposing standards of those tenacious, unforgiving, and often inconvenient things we call facts.

Perhaps knowing that this would be his last shot at truly global audience; certainly knowing how much was on the line, Obama made clear that there was only one choice for carrying his world view forward.

With Hillary Clinton, we can take Barack to the Future.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

DemCon Day Two: He Had Them at “In the Spring of 1971, I Met a Girl…”

Last night Bubba was back in the building, and the Big Dog never disappoints. 

We are a country that has grown so divided, so rigid in our political differences that we often feel that those with whom we disagree are arbitrarily committed to find the contrarian perspective to just about any opinion –even any fact – that is offered in the public discourse.

If one person says “blue,” the other will say “red;” if person “A” says “up,” person “B” will say, “down, and by the way, who the f--k made you person ‘A’?”

If one individual says “forward,” the other says “back,” if one argues that things are “for the better,” the other is “for worse,” and if a person were to say “black,” the other might say “white, “ although the increasingly au courant response is “blue.”

At this point, 50% of us say “tomato,” and 50% of us say “to-mah-to,” and there’s no Cole Porter to write some new lyric out of this mess. Even the currently configured Supreme Court would be unable to adjudicate on Tomato v. Tomato and the lower court ruling would stand.

Into this nation of premature opinionating, I seek consensus on but one small matter.

America, can we put that divisiveness behind us all and come together as a people on one seemingly incontestable point? I submit, here and now, letting the word go forth, to friend and foe alike, that Bill Clinton did a better job of “humanizing” his spouse than Melania Trump did with hers. Last night, Bill Clinton came out on top in the humanizing race.

Now, mind you, I have no issue with Melania Trump, other than a perhaps primal suspicion about people who have navigated through life based solely on their physical appearance and who casually outsource the act of thinking to flunkies who are in turn empowered to blithely steal ideas from others. Perhaps I quibble. But let’s just say this: if you need a speechwriter to write your reflections about your most intimate, important, and emotional relationship with another human being, the odds are pretty high that the result with be about as authentic as one of those cell phone towers that Verizon tries to disguise as a pine tree.

So last night was the Democrats’ turn to fulfill the relatively recently implemented Convention convention that requires the candidate’s spouse to “humanize” the nominee.  It is a troubling, indeed, that this exercise is now considered de rigueur, as it points to an inherent premise that the candidates are not all that human.  Who thinks that? Geez, it is precisely the all-too-human frailties of these two self-involved blowhards that earns the more likeable one a mere 28% approval rating.

So on “Humanize-Tuesday” (which comes between “Unify Monday” and “Wonkish Wednesday”), the Democrats gushed about the real Hillary Clinton, the human side of a person they believe we don’t know well despite having unfettered access to 60,000 of her personally-authored emails.

However: the witnesses who came forward last night were individually impressive and, in aggregate, a tour de force. If you spend no other time looking at convention coverage on youtube, check out the live speeches of the “Mothers of the Movement,” the mothers of eight young black people killed by law enforcement officers or in incidents involving our uniquely American culture of AK-47-toting vigilantism. The mothers who spoke were determined to drive change and thereby find purpose in their tragedies; while their words transcended the politics of the moment; their commitment to Hillary Clinton was authentic and moving.

Once again, the Democrats fielded an array of speakers who somehow managed to outshine Republican convention speakers Scott Baio and that lady golfer Natalie Gulbis. (The latter, by the way, is so insignificant that when you google her name, you actually get fewer results than if you google “leprechauns named Tim.”)

In contrast, real-deal stars like Cecile Richards, Tony Goldwyn, Lena Dunham, heroic 9/11 survivor Lauren Manning, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Madeleine Albright weighed in for Hillary. More importantly, though, each had a clear role: each in turn defined the specific, concrete, actions that Clinton had achieved, be it for Planned Parenthood, 9/11 recovery, the climate change crisis, human trafficking, and the protection and education of children. Indeed, the theme of caring for children was clearly being elevated to the meta-message of the convention and her candidacy.

Throughout, though, the networks knew that the way to keep people from switching over to NCIS Reykjavik was the promise that the Big Dog was just around the corner.

Bill Clinton came on stage after 10:00, looking tentative and a bit gaunt. But the trademarks – biting his lip, left hand half-raised with finger pointing up to make a point – signaled that Bubba was in the house. Game on.

“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl…”

Not a woman, mind you. Not a future Secretary of State. Not a youthful policy-wonk.  A girl.

The use of the word served to both convey just how long he has known Hillary Clinton, and that first and foremost theirs was a romantic attraction. Clinton shared the warm story of how they met – it’s what Manhattan trendies now call a “good meet”—and the audience slid back into their seats, no doubt momentarily warmed in the glow of the memory of their own first encounter with their life partner. The crowd settled in for that soothing silky Southern Clinton, happy to par-tay like it was 1999. Bill would go on to speak for the better part of an hour, but for all the testimony he would offer, I suspect you could practically hear Renee Zellweger sighing, “You had me at ‘In the spring of 1971, I met a girl…”

So Bill Clinton told the story of his marriage.  Perhaps it was not the version he would have to tell in the confessional, though he did refer to the hardships and difficult periods.  But he told a story of flesh and blood, of his attraction to the girl he met in law school, of their courtship, marriage, and parenting, and of endless admiration for her idealism, her values, but most of all, his perception that she has spent a lifetime getting things done.

Bill told the story of the Hillary Clinton he has known since 1971, and how in each and every phase and chapter, Hillary had made positive change happen. He recounted stories of her initiative in identifying problems that needed fixing; her intellect and resolve in identifying solutions, and – most of all – her resourcefulness and relentlessness in making change actually happen.

Whether it was challenging school segregation in the south while still in law school, figuring out how to provide primary care in Arkansas, co-sponsoring legislation to ease adoption with a political arch-rival, or flying all night from Cambodia to help avert open warfare in the Middle East, the stories that Bill Clinton told were real, specific, and reinforced his core narrative… that Hillary Clinton looks for opportunities to effect change, and does the hard work to make it happen.

Perhaps most engaging were the stories Bill Clinton was able to tell about a Hillary Clinton motivated to help, to change, and to fight far before there were cameras and elections. There is, of course, a widely embraced sentiment – cynical, to be sure, but broadly felt -- that everything Hillary Clinton does is scripted and run through a PR machine for political end. Bill Clinton seemed to dwell on the stories from her youth – “In the spring of 1971, I met a girl” – to make the point that his wife’s idealism, commitment, and drive to solve problems was real, native to her being, and far pre-dated that which could ever be portrayed as posturing for cameras.

Toward the end of his remarks, Clinton finally pivoted to the present, and without acrimony, he reflected on the two versions of Hillary Clinton that now exist in our culture. “How does this square with what they said at the Republic convention? One is real, the other is made up. You just have to decide which is which, my fellow Americans.”

From his standpoint, his wife is the “best darn change-maker I have ever met in my entire life. This is a really important point… change is hard…actually doing the work is hard. She has never been satisfied with the status quo in anything; she always wants to move the ball forward. That is just who she is.”

Ok, so it is unfair to compare a squinty-eyed model frozen in front of a teleprompter with a man generally regarded as one of the greatest politicians and communicators of our time, though I can pretty much guarantee you that a startling percentage of Trumpublicans will tell you that they Melania Trump made a better speech than Bill Clinton. It is now past the point at which such questions are actively considered; our country now is set to one gigantic default mechanism that dictates that my team is right and your team sucks, no matter what the question is.

But the question of whether Bill was better than Melania is facetious and utterly irrelevant.

The real question is this: last night did Bill Clinton accomplish what he had to accomplish?

There’s a lovely quote attributed to legendary basketball coach John Wooden: “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

Republicans would tell you that Hillary Clinton spends that time feverishly deleted classified emails and making up stories about Benghazi.

Last night, Bill Clinton told America what Hillary Clinton is like, and has always been like, when he, and only he, was watching.

It was a good night for Bill. A good night for Democrats. And for Hillary Clinton, it was the day that she became the first female major party nominee for the Presidency of the United States, the most powerful job on Earth, in history.

And, as a nice little kicker, she got to hear a long list of sweet somethings, perhaps long overdue, from her husband.

So maybe her husband guy ran on at length about how much he admired her, and maybe he gave a few too many examples of the hard work she has done to improve things, large and small.

But, hey, can you blame him?

In the spring of 1971, he met a girl…

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

DemCon Day One: YES SHE CAN! (But She's Not the First Lady who is Running for President)

We’re back with Day One of the Democratic Convention, in which the real First Lady delivered a spectacular speech using her very own words. Good news for Melania, who now has a new speech to crib from.

I know that a powerful, passionate, exceptionally smart woman who first became known to the American people as our First Lady is about to be the first woman nominated by a major U.S. party as their candidate for president.

I am just not sure it is the right one.

As she did in 2008 and 2012, Michelle Obama rocked the Democratic Convention last night, clearly the top gun among a roster of party superstars. In the imagery of parenting, role models, and children-rearing in the White House fish bowl, she found the perfect, honest, original (ouch, Melania!), and wholly authentic way to contrast her values, those of her husband, and those of Hillary Clinton with the Republican whose name she did not deign to mention.  Michelle Obama is a powerful, strong, original, authentic woman. Geez, I thought… if only more Republicans would steal ideas from her.

It’s a very good thing that Michelle Obama brought her “A” game last night. Great that Corey Booker also excelled in a speech that reminded people of another emerging young charismatic African American voice back at the 2004 convention.  Elizabeth Warren was good but not at her best, and Bernie Sanders checked all the boxes he needed to check. A strong showing by this cast was made essential, however, by the toxic events leading up to the convention.

As of last Saturday morning, there was every reason for Democrats to look forward to their convention in Philadelphia, upbeat and confident.

The Republican Convention that had just concluded in Cleveland was broadly panned; it was flawed by amateurish organizational failures, Melania Trump’s humiliating plagiarism scandal, a public snub of the candidate by Ted Cruz, and four days of a relentlessly over-the-top tone of darkness, anger, and hostility. The value of Donald Trump’s four most passionate and articulate endorsements was diminished by the fact that they were all given by someone also named Trump. Fact-checkers lunched lavishly on Trump’s inaccurate accounting of America under Obama. The only thing missing was a Neil Young rewrite of his classic lyrics (“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, four days in Ohio!”), and the Trumpublican 2016 Convention would have achieved its rendezvous with yesteryear.

The rancor of the Republican Party seemed to be the perfect backdrop for the supposedly newly united Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton had made hyooooooge concessions to Bernie Sanders on his key platform planks in order to secure his endorsement before the convention.

On Saturday, Tim Kaine was well-received as Hillary’s choice for running mate. The selection of the vanilla nice Kaine telegraphed the campaign’s confidence; there was no perceived need to make a “high risk/high potential reward” pick like Warren or Booker.

Things seemed to be in really good shape for the Blue Team en route to the city of Brotherly Love.

Ah, but this is the Democratic Party.  For the eight years of No Drama Obama, the Party’s core DNA had been forcibly repressed like a Ritalin kid tethered in the back seat for the entire ride to Six Flags.  Hillary Clinton had tried to tame the monster, but deep down, the Party of Chaos was dry kindling looking for a match.  If you are looking for experts on how to botch a good thing, who you gonna call? Victory Busters! This is, after all, the party that in 2000 was riding on eight years of surging prosperity, no foreign wars, and spectacular technological innovation… and still managed to lose to a guy who once said “The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country."   

About the only good news about the DNC email leak is that it did not involve Hillary Clinton’s private server. Thousands of emails were hacked by Wiki-Leaks, revealing embarrassing exchanges that showed that members of the Democratic National Committee were gaming how to sabotage Bernie’s campaign.

On Friday there had been legions of Bernie Babies just on the cusp of almost sorta kinda thinkin’ about maybe this one time accepting that just maybe – maybe – they ought to get in line behind Hillary. By Saturday, they were once again in open revolt.

It is an age-old truth that the gaffes that hurt the most are those that reinforce a core narrative about a candidate. In this case, the idea that the Democratic Party organization was plotting to undermine the Bernie Sanders campaign pressed every negative button about Hillary Clinton: that she is above the rules, that the rules are rigged in her favor, that the establishment was screwing the insurgent, that Hillary can’t be trusted.  By Sunday morning, the damage control squad was working overtime, but Bernie’s gang were simmering in the Philadelphia heat and looking for a floor fight.

Then came the news that Trump’s supposedly awful convention had actually resulted in a six point “bounce” in the polls, putting him ahead of Clinton in the albeit largely meaningless national polls. That news hit Philadelphia like an insufficiently anesthetized colonoscopy, causing liberals to realize yet again just how much they don’t understand Trump and his supporters. A plagiarized convention pummeled by a snub-nosed Cruz missile that climaxed in a Heart of Darkness acceptance speech could lead to plus six points on the big board?

Ah, but there they go again. Their huge party about to begin, the Democrats needed only a weekend to make lemons out of lemonade.

Help, however, was on the way. Unlike the Republicans, who were scraping gum off Cleveland sidewalks in search of recognizable names to speak for Trump, the Democrats sent so many A-Listers and real-deal human interest stories up to the stage that I thought the podium was a celebrity Pokemon Go destination.

In the early evening, the Democrats presented a series of articulate, likeable, and highly sympathetic flesh and blood targets of Donald Trump’s bigotry and deceit: A young woman who was personally the victim of a Trump University scam; a person with disabilities spoke after repeated video replays of Trump’s horrific mimicry of Times Reporter Serge Kovaleski; a woman whose parents were illegal immigrants spoke of the human impact that the deportation of eleven million people would have on families and children.

Unfortunately, these riveting and stirring stories gave way to allegedly professional entertainers, who proceeded to let the air seep out of the balloon. Al Franken demonstrated that he is now actually better as a Senator than as a comedian. And Sarah Silverman thought it would be clever if she told the Bernie hold-outs that they “are being ridiculous.” Did I mention something above about kindling looking for a match? Thanks, Sarah.

Just as the stench from Silverman’s brain-fart was seeping out into the arena, Paul Simon was introduced to sing the suddenly extremely appropriate “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” Note to Paul: if Bernie can make up with Hillary, you may want to get over it with Art. That song requires octaves you haven’t visited since Graceland.

Somehow not soothed by the mediocre rendering of ancient music by an aging multimillionaire white guy, the Bernie-babies were frothing when – just in the nick of time -- a bit of true convention magic happened.

Corey Booker, the immensely personable senator from New Jersey, snapped, crackled and popped onto the national stage last night, delivering a soaring speech that may have been the most comprehensive and inspirational “why vote Democrat” speech of the last decade. Booker warmed up with a few scalpel-sharp cuts into Donald Trump (“he says thing about women that he would never accept another man saying about his own wife…”), and then launched into a rich, full-throated articulation of the beliefs that unify Democrats and that Hillary Clinton has championed. If the Bernie insurgency was still sounding off in the arena, it was invisible; certainly so to the audience viewing from home.

Booker is a powerful speaker; but he has that rare gift of rhetorical genius for cadence, tempo, and modulation. He created a staircase of ever-elevated endorsements of Clinton by beginning each succeeding phase with an emphatic, “She knows!” Later, he quoted from Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise…”

“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

… And proceeded to build to a climax echoing her poem by using the phrase “We will rise!”

Booker hit a home run, and set the table for the Superstar.

It’s sort of a tragedy that Melania Trump did not simply come right out and say, “and now I would like to quote a passage from Michelle Obama.” What a moment that would have been; melting the robotic rigidity of Trump Trophy III. Hey, Melania… it’s o.k. …. Even people who don’t like Barack think Michelle is about as cool as it gets.

Michelle Obama chose the theme of being a parent in a life in full public view as a highly engaging way to deliver sharp zingers at the man whose name she never mentioned.

She spoke of how she and her husband have spent the past eight years constantly aware that their words and actions would be immensely influential on a generation of children. “Our words and our actions matter,” she said, lifting a word that has recently signaled polarization into a new context.

“When they go low,” she said, likely in reference to the birthers who question her husband’s citizenship and the zealots who questioned his religion, “We go high.”

Michelle Obama found a graceful transition in praising Hillary Clinton as a mother who raised a child “to perfection.” What was interesting -- given a history of rough moments with Hillary -- was her genuine admiration for Clinton. “When she did not win the (2008) nomination, she did not become angry or disillusioned. She did not pack up and go home. As a public servant, she knows this is so much more important…”

She made a thinly-veiled contrast between Clinton and Trump in describing the kind of President she wanted for her children.  The issues we face are complex, she said, and “cannot be boiled down to 140 characters.” “You cannot have a thin skin or lash out.”

That her endorsement of Hillary Clinton was total, complete, and unalloyed was not a surprise: a Clinton victory is vital for Obama’s legacy. What was striking was the degree to which Michelle Obama seemed to be putting herself on the line on the one word that most haunts Hillary Clinton: trust. Placing her entire speech in the context of her own children enabled her to make as emphatic an endorsement as one can imagine, as she essentially was saying the she trusted Hillary Clinton to be President in the world that her children – and children everywhere – would live in.

Michelle Obama ended at 10:24, and by the time she ended her speech, the emotional high for the evening had crested.

Elizabeth Warren found herself sandwiched between Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders, and – perhaps as a result – she did not command the crowd as she so often does. It did not help that she led with the charge that “the system is rigged,” which was originally Sanders' signature line, and then co-opted by Trump. It has therefore a campaign message for just about everybody except Hillary Clinton... and a good many people think she is the one doing the rigging. Coming 24 hours after the DNC email scandal – which was arguably a good example of the system being “rigged” – Warren seemed uncharacteristically tone deaf for someone charged with delivering the convention’s keynote.

At a point when most East Coast Time people feel mostly exhausted, it was finally time to Feel the Bern. Bernie Sanders walked on stage at 10:50 p.m. and bathed in an exceptionally warm four minute ovation.

For a crusty old goat who has seemingly spent the past year cherishing his role as a sharp spike in Hillary Clinton’s spleen, Bernie Sanders stood up and did what he had to do last night.  He coddled his following with one last Bernie stadium speech for old time’s sake, right down to the schtick about average donation being twenty seven dollars!!

But that is what he had to do. He had to remind his faithful of their cause; he needed to indulge himself, and all of them, in one last trip around the bases. Who cares if the Dems had grooved him a 70 mile per hour fast ball down the center of the plate; everyone needed him to hit the home run.

Sanders said what he needed to say: he emphatically concluded that “Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding President and I am proud to stand with her tonight.”

After the emotional carnage of the DNC email scandal, it remains to be seen whether Sanders even has the power to line up his troops to fight for the Clinton Army. But he did make the full-on endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and by 11:22, the Democratic Party looked almost… almost… united.

In the end, the question is not whether it is Bernie Sanders’ job to deposit his faithful throngs into Hillary Clinton’s needy arms.

So far, the leadership of the Democratic Party has done all it can do to bring the party together behind her… and we have not even yet heard from Bill Clinton, VP candidate Tim Kaine, or the Commander in Chief himself.

But even after those speeches, there is one person who must personally win over the Bernie Babies. One person who must take the game to Trump. One person who must win this election, which is shaping up to be the most brutal in American history.

Can she do it?

I sure want to believe the answer is yes, she can.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Republican Convention Day Four: "Believe Me."

Here’s our take on The Donald’s big speech… is he ready for Prime Time?

It seems like it may come down to this: How bad are things, anyway? And, to a secondary and lesser degree, whose fault is it?

For whatever peculiarities have permeated this extraordinary election cycle, presidential politics at the stage of the Party conventions follow predictable, well, conventions.

The party in power must make the case for staying the course. The eternal slogan: “Four More Years!”

The party out of power must make the case for change… the famous Reagan Challenge: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

For all of his “outsider” and unconventional candidacy, last night Donald Trump fell in line with convention.  He made an urgent, dire, and indeed apocalyptic case for change.

Last night in Cleveland on the final day of the Republican Convention, Donald Trump laid out the vision that is informing and inspiring his candidacy. His speech could be viewed as the classic posturing of a negotiator. His first and entire intent was to frame the debate and unnerve his negotiating opponent, aggressively shoving the democrats back on their high heels, forcing them on the defensive about the catastrophic state of failure that is today’s United States of America.

There’s no mistaking this point: in order for Trump to make the case for change, he felt he must first make an uncompromising and unalloyed case that the state of our nation is the worst it has ever been.  Indeed, he framed his speech as his own view of the “State of the Union,” and he promised his perspective would be wholly truthful and not filtered through the classic Washington, D.C. lens of self-interest, corruption, and self-preservation.

“I am your voice,” Trump thundered,  targeting what he perceives to be an electoral majority that believes its needs are ignored, and whose desires are actively thwarted and belittled by distant, out-of-touch, establishment elites in Washington.  Elites, Trump contended, who are cynical, corrupt, and on-the-take, making millions off the backs of the working men and women of America.  In a terrifying world of cop-killing and mass-murders by terrorists, it is essential that America elects a new leader who sees the existential threat to our way of life, and who will put law and order first at home, and who will immediately act to destroy ISIS abroad.

Trump’s approach was based on a tried and true debating tactic: it is far easier to make an argument for change by talking about how terrible things are, rather than about your plan for making things better.

Donald Trump spared no aspect of American life from his scathing invective. The country is unsafe due to rampant crime and cop killers; we are in constant danger from the illegal immigrants who come into the country and murder innocent people; we are forever at risk from suspicious Muslims who pour into our country through non-existent borders.  Our manufacturing base has been destroyed by trade deals, bringing our economy to its knees.  The Middle East used to be fairly stable – Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt – until Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State.

As unstinting as Trump was in his assessment of the state of our nation, the words on paper  were the lesser half of his communication.

The tone with which words are delivered shapes their meaning, and triggers an emotional response which can have far more impact than mere verbiage. Donald Trump’s delivery in Quicken Loans Arena last evening was relentlessly dark, angry, and fiercely combative; it was high-testosterone, Alpha-male hostility. It is actually possible for me to imagine that the exact same speech, delivered with the steady manner and occasional aw shucks grin of a Ronald Reagan, might have resulting in a portrayal of 2016 America as merely the third or fourth circle of Dante’s Inferno rather than Trump’s ninth.

But rather than sunny Ronnie, Donald Trump was channeling (as BTRTN reported last Friday, before the Huff Post or NYT!) none other than Tricky Dick Nixon.  What an irony! Trump campaign director Paul Manafort openly acknowledged that Trump’s speech was based on Nixon’s “Law and Order” convention speech in 1968, but Manafort stone-walled on admitting that Melania’s speech was plagiarized from Michelle Obama. Call me crazy, but I would not have freely offered up the Nixon steal, and it would have been a beautiful moment if Melania Trump had openly credited Michelle with hers.

By 11:34 last night, we finally had the answer that we’d been anticipating for months. All along, your writers here at BTRTN and indeed many pundits and journalists have been waiting for Donald Trump to “pivot…” to expand his message in an attempt to win over the undecided voters, rather than counting on victory through merely energizing his base to turn out and vote.

This week in Cleveland, we got the answer. The extent of the pivot seems to be this: a VP who is neither Chris Christie nor Newt Gingrich, a self-congratulatory moment for not booing gay people or the notion of LGBT rights, and four kids who clearly love their Dad… although they have not yet reached the denouement in “The Empire Strikes Back” when it is revealed that he is Darth Vadar.

Trump’s speech will be criticized widely for its lack of specificity and substance; those of us who have been following this rather closely for the past year did not expect a sudden Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus lightning bolt infusion of fact, detail, and granular policy into a Trump speech.

Rather, the Trump version of “supporting rationale” is the reassurance that Donald Trump himself is the person providing the information. “Believe me,” he nods, seemingly after every other sentence, with the attitude that these two words should be viewed as the functional equivalent of having been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, or as a string citation in a legal brief filed at the Supreme Court. “Believe me.”

Trump noted that would “make life better for kids in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit and Ferguson.” He would “defeat the Barbarians of ISIS.” He would “repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare.” He would “fix TSA at the airports.” “Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored.” In many such political speeches, one expects these types of sentences to actually continue, and proceed with to an explanation of how such grand things will be accomplished.  Trump prefers to simply end such assertions with a crisp period, or with that smugly self-satisfied “Believe me.”  He seems unaware that “believe me” is a line most often heard from twenty-somethings trying to convince a cop that they only had two wine spritzers.

In the end, Donald Trump’s singular objective appeared to be to create a case that life in America today is so terrifying, so rigged against the common man, and so full of uncertainty and risk that literally anybody would be better than Hillary Clinton. For that matter, there were nights in Cleveland when I thought the slogan “Anybody but Clinton” might have had more traction than “Vote for Trump.”

I have learned from watching CNN that I now must praise some aspect of his speech, as this appears to be de rigueur for all journalists so that they can claim to be “fair and balanced” (RIP, Roger Ailes).

How’s this? The very best thing I can say about Donald Trump’s speech is that I guarantee you not one word was stolen from Michelle Obama.

What does it all mean for the Democrats as they convene in Philadelphia?

They actually have a sincere communications challenge… but one that, if navigated well, can provide enormous momentum going into the full campaign season. The truth is that there is an enormous advantage in going second – that’s why the home team bats last – and my hope is that the Democrats leverage this opportunity.

The first challenge is delicate:  while acknowledging that our society faces real problems, the Democrats must – absolutely must – declare victory for the past eight years.

Fortunately, there is a very strong record for the Democrats to lead with… most pointedly if they set the stage with the condition of the country the last time the Republicans were in charge. Indeed, I would argue that the Democrats would be wise to kick off the convention by holding themselves up to the Gipper’s famous test: “Are you better off than you were eight years ago?”


  • A global economy in free fall due to lax enforcement and insufficient controls on major financial institutions; the life savings of everyday people decimated.
  • The automobile industry about to go in bankruptcy.
  • Unemployment rolls swelling by hundreds of thousands.
  • 5,000 Americans killed in a war undertaken under false pretenses.
  • Government response to Katrina.
  • Over forty million American men, women, and children without health insurance.


  • Unemployment at lows not seen in decades.
  • Financial markets and retirement accounts at all-time highs.
  • Millions now covered by health insurance.
  • Government response to Sandy (a pic of the Christie and Obama hug here would do real nice).
  • Financial controls (Dodd Frank) has stabilized financial markets.
  • Healthy auto industry.
  • The killing of Osama Bin Laden.

I would submit the Democrats would be wise to take aim at a core component of Trump’s assessment of the widespread discontent with government.  A key source of discontentment, Clinton might offer, is the gridlock caused by parties that announce their sole intention to thwart the goals of the other and freeze governing to inaction rather than lose on any point.  Clinton could note that Trump would have you believe that a bully bent on forcing his personal agenda is how we can improve government.  Such a course is only doomed to harden the lines that divide us.

It is not mine to write this defense. But the Democrats absolutely cannot allow Donald Trump’s assessment of America in 2016 under eight years of Democratic leadership to stand unchallenged. That’s job one.

The second “must” is a frank discussion of challenges. Again, it is not mine to write the policy, it is mine to point out that the Democrats must be perceived as the party that seeks wise, nuanced, and effective solutions to very real and current global and domestic issues that are layered with history and divisiveness. Hillary Clinton must explain that Trump’s oversimplification of exceedingly complex issues risks wildly exacerbating and inflaming the issues.

I have noted in previous columns that Hillary Clinton must articulate an activist, aggressive plan for dealing with ISIS. Today, it appears that the Democrats do not have a plan for how to fight this war. It is all well and good for Hillary Clinton to say that it is naïve and dangerous of Trump to speak of “bombing the shit out of ISIS,” but she must counter with the more intelligent and effective game plan. She must center her policy on coordinated action among nations, as well as characterizing Trump’s unilateral militancy as just another Republican cowboy ready to try shock and awe in a new town.

The Democrats must counter the “law and order” platform of the Republicans with a staunch assertion of support for law enforcement, but an equally strong need to identify and prosecute rogue officers, and a plan to assess and address institutional racial bias where it exists.  

Third, the Democrats must offer concrete, detailed plans and programs – if only to relentlessly point out how utterly lacking in substance Donald Trump’s campaign has been.

At the end of the day, Donald Trump’s showmanship was in full evidence on Tuesday night. He speaks with an absolute certainty that he is right, he is a man of action, and that he gets things done. Indeed, his certainty in himself is usually the primary reason he offers to support his contentions and his solutions.

There was a fascinating difference last night between the prepared text of Trump’s remarks last night and the actual speech that he delivered.

Repeatedly, in his live performance, he interjected the phrase “Believe me! Believe me!”

Those words never appear in the text, but they were repeated as if a needed dash of seasoning at the end of each sentence in the live speech.

It is as if he sensed the flimsiness of his facts or lack of substance to his solutions, and sought to buttress them in real time with the most compelling evidence he can offer: “Believe me.”

The Democrats would be wise to attack this phrase.  Why, why, why, should America believe Donald Trump? Why shouldn’t he be held to the standard of substance and details that every other candidate is held to? Why, for one example, should he alone not have to release his taxes? Why does he get to say that he will renegotiate deals, but not explain how? Why must we simply believe him?

Last night, Donald Trump made his case.

The good news for the Democrats is that he did not pivot. He presented a ferocious, grim, uncompromising view of a nation in disarray and defeat.

Interestingly, the overwhelming image coming out of Cleveland this past week was the isolation and singularity of the Trump campaign. It was a convention that traditional party leaders and many recent presidential contenders chose not to attend. Trump was openly snubbed by the man who ran second

Instead, the Trumpublican convention in Cleveland was highlighted by old time hacks passed their prime (Christie, Gingrich, and Pence) and five notable speakers who all happened to be named Trump.

As if to make the point even more emphatically, the only solutions Trump offered in a one hour and twenty minute speech were the opinions and actions and alleged expertise of one man.

Believe me.