Monday, July 25, 2016

Hillary's goals, 100 hours from now.

Events have overtaken this a bit, of course. The theft and leaking of DNC emails has created some real tension about how Bernie Sanders’ team will act. I'm going to leave that mostly alone, because (a) it goes without saying that Team Clinton needs to bring the party together and (b) it's too early to say how this will play out. Let's see how the Monday night schedule –fortuitously built around people the Sandernistas either love (Warren, Bernie) or respect (the First Lady). It's also unclear how much the Russian angle will play out here – Trump’s fawning love for Putin and financial debts to Russian financiers are getting picked up by the media and this may yet be a thing. 

But going into the convention, there are three goals that will be key for Hillary Clinton. And believe it or not, they don't involve tearing Donald Trump a new one. 

1. Tell your candidate’s story. I was at the 1992 DNC convention.  Bill Clinton came in to that week third behind Ross Perot and George H.W. Bush. When he and Al Gore left New York, he was ten points up and Perot was gone. A lot was due to the brilliant job people did telling his story –growing up in a poor, single-family home in Hope, Arkansas and becoming a Rhodes Scholar and governor. It was wrapped up in a great biographical video that ended with Bill intoning “I still believe in a place called Hope.”  Hillary is now more familiar than Bill was in 92, but she isn't beyond reintroducing. She is a guarded person who has been vilified by Republicans for years, and does not easily speak emotionally. Many younger Sanders people didn't know the days when she was the left-wing, progressive bogeyman the neocons hated, and her work on human rights, anti-war causes and children’s law will be news to them. More importantly, they need to show what makes Hillary Clinton tick.

2. Make substance matter. One critique I have on the Clinton campaign is that they are still acting like the Center can be defined by what it isn't –not Trump, not radical change –than what it actually is. By the end of the week, there needs to be some clear things that President Clinton is for, not just things they won't let President Trump do. This is doubly important because Trump is a know-nothing on policy. It has surprised me that they haven't made him respond and react to policy debates (where he can't match Clinton) instead of value challenges (where he has some cunning and strength she lacks). There are lots of ideas more compelling than a wall….but the fact I can't name what her signature policy is suggests a problem for the “substance” candidate. 

3. Pick your narrative on Trump. One reason why Trump has had some Loki-like qualities this campaign is because he makes so many crazy statements. Many candidates screw up once, and then let the media chew on that topic for a week before something more interesting comes along. Trump throws crazy into the conversation like chum in the water, and often no one thing sticks. Having 16 opponents in the GOP primary kept there from being one devastating critique. Trump is good (not as good as the media thinks, but good) in picking one tiny flaw in his opponents and sticking to it, while goading his opponents into attacking him through a laundry list of weirdness. Clinton needs to choose from the pu-pu platter of crazy and pick a narrative on Trump. We will know by the speakers’ list if they have managed it. In essence, they need to decide if Trump is dangerous because things aren't so bad and he is unstable, or if things are bad but Clinton’s stability is the right antidote. Getting caught between the two may be fatal. 

Again, there are still unknowns here. But the basic goals remain the same. Trump’s bounce this week is not worrisome because he can't be reined in – ask Presidents Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry and Romney what the value is of getting a lead before the incumbent party replies – but he is hitting numbers that show that the universe of people willing to consider him is high enough to win. He set a narrative –the world is falling apart, and he is change and Clinton is the same old insider politics. This is the best chance the Democrats will have to fix a narrative of the campaign that draws a distinction that favours their candidate. 

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