PHILADELPHIA – Hillary Clinton used the biggest speech of her career to reach across the political aisle to voters mortified by their own party’s choice, casting the stakes of the election as far higher than a typical campaign battle of left versus right.
She rolled through the challenges of this era: stagnant wages, terrorist attacks, climate change, student debt, laying out promises for tackling them as a roomful of supporters waved U.S. flags, chanted her name, and drowned out periodic heckling from left-wing protesters.
Then Clinton raised the stakes.
She described this election as a moment of reckoning for a country that risks electing a uniquely dangerous man — whom she characterized as an ill-informed, thin-skinned, hate-mongering bully too reckless to hold the great levers of power.
“Imagine him in the Oval Office,” she said, after accepting the Democratic nomination as the first female presidential candidate for a major U.S. party.
“A man we can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
She referred to him calling women pigs, mocking a judge of Mexican heritage, miming a disabled reporter, and insulting former Republican nominee John McCain for being captured in Vietnam: “Here’s the sad truth,” Clinton said. “There is no other Donald Trump. This is it.”
She called him unworthy of a country whose Latin motto is, “Out of many, one.” Likening him to a childhood tormentor, Clinton shared a story about her mother refusing to allow her in the house as she tried fleeing a bully: “She literally locked the door. ‘Go back out there,’ she said… She was right. You have to stand up to bullies.”
It’s a recurring theme of the Democratic convention.
While the party has a variety of progressive planks in its platform it does not intend to fight this election on a left-right axis — but on other fronts. Unity versus division. Ideas versus a cult of personality. Her versus Trump. Or, as Protestant minister William Barber summed it up in a speech before she took the stage: “Some issues are not left versus right. They are right versus wrong.”
The convention saw speakers and scoreboard videos name-check Republicans including McCain, Ronald Reagan, Mitt Romney, George W. Bush. Barbara Bush and Marco Rubio in an effort to make the case that this candidate should be uniquely unpalatable to self-respecting Republicans.
The message was underscored by speakers like President Barack Obama. He extolled the conservative values of his grandparents’ Kansas and described the Republican candidate as a demagogue unworthy of being associated with them.
Current and former Republicans filed to the podium like Michael Bloomberg, the ex-New York mayor. On Wednesday, a former official in the Reagan administration said he would vote Democrat for the first time, because his loyalty to country exceeded that to party. Doug Elmets compared him unfavourably to his own party’s hero: “Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan,” he said. “Reagan saw nuance.”
In a campaign where Trump proposed a blanket ban on Muslim travel to the U.S., before rewording the proposal to apply to immigration from an unspecified list of countries, American Muslims were given a sequence of speaking roles.
Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabaar spoke. Then came Khizr Khan whose son, a Muslim immigrant, was killed while serving the U.S. Army in Iraq: “The best of America,” he said of his son, Humayun. “If it were up to Donald Trump, he would never have been in America.”
He urged all immigrants to take this election seriously, and for all voters to teach Trump a lesson on Nov. 8.
The challenge of reaching out to moderates was underscored repeatedly Thursday.
The left-most tip of the party’s left wing was conspicuous in its annoyance all week. Dozens of the hardest-core supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders repeatedly heckled military speakers, including retired Gen. John Allen and veteran Florent Groberg, who lost his leg in a suicide attack.
Protesters repeatedly chanted: “No more wars,” and, “Peace, not war.” They got annoyed stares and demands to keep quiet from the rest of the crowd. They were drowned out by chants of, “U-S-A!” and were made to disappear behind the waving of large American flags distributed to delegates around them.
Many on the left were already convinced the party was biased against them, unconvinced that Clinton had defeated Sanders fairly — even though she got one-quarter more primary votes and won many more states.
They were annoyed when Sanders endorsed her. And fuel was poured over their still-smouldering anger in form of internal party emails, which the U.S. government suspects were stolen by Russian hackers and provided to the site Wikileaks.
Some held up a banner that read, “WIKILEAKS,” in all-caps.
Clinton was introduced by her daughter Chelsea. A Clinton aide said the nominee had still been working on the speech Wednesday. She had been working on it for weeks, with her staff and her husband Bill.
“(Bill) knows her voice extremely well, having spent years by her side,” said aide Kristina Schake. “So he’s helping her craft the message that she wants to give tonight to the American people.”