5 Takeaways From The Democratic National Convention

July 30, 2016

The Democratic National Convention is over. Here are some of the big takeaways from a week in Philadelphia that had more suspense and drama than expected.

The Democrats Are Really, Really Good At This

Just like Barack Obama’s two conventions, this one was flawlessly choreographed. Even the revolt of the Bernie Bros had a more-or-less happy ending.

The speakers, the videos, and even the entertainment were all designed to drive the message of optimism and inclusion, hour after hour, day after day. The Democrats even had a lot more “showbiz” than Donald Trump promised but might not have quite delivered.

The pacing was also effective. The first two days were all about locking down the base and the lineup of speakers on Monday and Tuesday was what you’d expect at a Democratic convention. But the last two days presented the Democrats as the “big tent” party; the podium on Wednesday and Thursday was filled with emissaries to the other side — former Reagan White House staffers, the former Republican mayor of New York City, retired military leaders, and the families of police officers killed in the line of duty.

Look Who’s Chanting “U.S.A!” Now

Donald Trump has given the Democrats a lot of openings and they tried to take advantage of every single one of them last week. They appropriated the rhetoric and imagery of patriotism and American exceptionalism, something that used to be a Republican franchise.

From the chants of “U.S.A! U.S.A!” to the huge American flags waving during the speeches of retired military officers supporting Clinton, the Democratic Party is arguing that it is the more patriotic party. Speaker after speaker seemed to be sending the message that it is not American to build a wall, bar an entire religion from entering the country, and denigrate people based on their looks or disabilities.

Presidential elections are supposed to be won by the candidate who is more optimistic and future-oriented. Donald Trump is trying to send that bit of conventional wisdom to the scrap heap. But the Democrats are still betting that hope, love and optimism sells better than gloom, doom and fear.

She Is Who She Is

Many people were expecting Hillary Clinton to offer more of herself in her speech. But Clinton is a guarded, cautious politician and rarely shows big crowds a peek of the person who can be warm and engaging one-on-one and in small groups.

Her speech was a more polished, even sometimes soaring version of her usual stump speech but any glimpses of the “real” Hillary Clinton were just slivers. Yes, she sweats the details of policy because it matters to her and yes, she cares more about the “service” part of public service more than the “public” part, but voters looking for a revealing insight to help them relate to her didn’t get one.

There were no new insights or even new anecdotes. Sometimes her voice was modulated; sometimes she was lecturing.

But she did touch all the themes of the convention and she used humor when she went after Trump. Instead of reinventing herself, she embraced her brand. She’s steady and ready — a workhorse not a show horse. And, yes, she’s been around a long time.

“Sometimes the people at this podium are new to the national stage,” she said. “I am not one of those people.”

The Emergence Of A New Democratic Party?

So much has been said about how far to the left the Democratic Party has moved. And that’s true.

But there was something else happening in Philadelphia. The agenda was liberal, but the rhetoric and imagery were conservative. If Donald Trump is laying a wrecking ball to the Republican Party, the Democrats are assuming there will be plenty of refugees — defense hawks, suburban women, moderate Republicans and independents — looking for a new home.

Both parties are responding to a growing nationalist sentiment. In Philadelphia, the Democrats were trying to develop a new kind of multi-ethnic nationalism, more inclusive and welcoming than Trump’s white identity politics.

How Much Will It Matter?

The Democrats had a great convention. Hillary Clinton’s speech was solid if not spectacular. But the next day’s GDP report — only 1.9 percent growth in the second quarter — was a dose of reality. The number of people who think the country is on the wrong track is close to 70 percent. Hillary Clinton is still enormously unpopular. And third terms are historically very hard to get.

Only 100 days left until Election Day.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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