Opinion writer

 


(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

THE MORNING PLUM:

Last night a former president spoke at the Democratic convention. Tonight the current one does. And the division of labor between the two of them — both arguably among the most effective public communicators of the last generation — runs roughly as follows: Bill Clinton’s task was to make everyone feel a whole lot better about Hillary Clinton, while Barack Obama’s job is to make everyone feel utterly horrified by Donald Trump.

Okay, it’s not quite that simple. But Bill Clinton’s speech yesterday was notable for its relentless focus on re-introducing Hillary Clinton to the American people after two decades in the public eye. There is a lot to say about Bill’s speech. But perhaps the single most important overriding point Bill tried to get across, by talking in strikingly granular detail about Hillary’s long career in public service and her relentless focus on improving people’s lives in incremental ways wherever possible, was to dispel the idea that she is in it for herself. The speech did go after Trump and Trumpism here and there, but only tangentially, and not by name, since the obvious goal was to make everyone feel a lot better, i.e., about Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, in a new interview, Obama signaled that he will essentially try to carry out the massacre of Trump that was missing last night. Previewing his speech, Obama told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie that Trump’s ignorance and lack of curiosity about the world pose a unique danger, should he find his way anywhere near the Oval Office. “What I think is scary is a president who doesn’t know their stuff and doesn’t seem to have any interest in learning what they don’t know,” Obama said, adding that Trump lacks a “basic knowledge about the world,” that he “doesn’t know” about the nuclear order and other crucial matters, and that he “hasn’t seemed to spend a lot of time trying to find out about” them.

Asked what he hopes the headline of his speech is, Obama said:

“I hope my headline is that the president of the United States is profoundly optimistic about America’s future — and is 100 percent convinced that Hillary Clinton can be a great president.”

While this signals that Obama, too, will make a positive case for Clinton as his successor, it also suggests that he plans to attempt a comprehensive indictment not just of Trump, but of Trumpism. The suggestion that he is optimstic about the country’s future is a clear signal that he will go hard at the pessimism at the core of Trump’s message. He’ll try to expose Trump’s depiction of the country as basically a Big Lie, a fraudulent vision of a hellscape in which crime is rampaging out of control, teeming dark hordes threaten us from the south, refugee-terrorists threaten us from the east, and only a single domineering figure who is not hamstrung by “political correctness” — read: racial sensitivity — can make it all better again.

The challenge for Obama will be to make all these points, and make people feel a bit better about the current direction of the country (large majorities tell pollsters they do not feel good about it), while acknowledging that there is still a long way to go. Speaking to voters’ legitimate grievances in a balanced way may prove the only way to prevent Trump from successfully exploiting them.

People don’t feel good about Clinton. They don’t feel good about Trump. They don’t feel good about the direction of the country. Everybody feels like crap about everything, apparently. Bill Clinton tried to right the first of those last night. Barack Obama will try to intensify the second, and turn around the third. And remember, there is a hard-headed set of demographic calculations at play here, too. Polls have shown that the voter groups with which Democrats hope to assemble a winning national coalition — college educated whites, nonwhites, women — don’t agree with Trump’s depiction of America. Meanwhile blue collar whites (who are less and less important in the Dem calculus) overwhelmingly agree with it, which is to say, they appear seduced by Trumpism’s hostility towards culturally and demographically diversifying America.

The good news for Democrats is that Trump has been so over the top in his efforts to make us all feel so miserable and terrified about the country and its ongoing cultural and demographic changes, and so certain that Hillary Clinton is nothing but a criminal and member of an elite that has conspired to crush the American worker, that he may have left room for a middle ground sentiment, one that is a bit more in sync with voters’ perceptions (hopefully, anyway) of reality. Getting to that space will be a delicate operation.

***********************************************************************

* WILL MAKING HISTORY HELP HILLARY? Karen Tumulty and Abby Phillip raise the question of whether being the first female nominee will give her an advantage, and suggest the answer may be No:

Polling suggests that Americans are…almost blasé at a moment they have seen coming for such a long time. The latest of those surveys was taken in July by CBS News and the New York Times. It found 30 percent saying the fact Clinton is a woman helps her as a candidate, 14 percent saying it hurts her and 56 percent saying it makes no difference….There is also the fact that Clinton herself has been part of the nation’s consciousness for so long.

One thing worth watching for will be whether this changes as the possibility of a female president becomes more real in voters’ minds.

* TRUMP FACES BIG CHALLENGE IN SWING STATES, ANALYSIS FINDS: The New York Times reports on a new analysis by Optimus, a GOP-aligned data firm:

Optimus…examined all the voters who cast ballots in primaries in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and Ohio — places [Mitt] Romney lost in 2012 but that Mr. Trump has said he can win by bringing new voters into the mix. Optimus found that with the exception of Florida, the number of new voters in the primaries would not have been enough to help Mr. Romney beat President Obama, which does not bode well for Mr. Trump’s chances.

The analysis’ conclusion: Trump probably can’t win without broadening his appeal. So maybe he should keep insulting pretty much every group in sight.

* ORLANDO VICTIMS’ FAMILIES TO SPEAK TONIGHT: NPR’s Tamara Keith, quoting a Clinton campaign aide, reports: “Family members of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting will speak at the DNC tonight.”

Which is surprising, since Trump, in his own comments on the shooting, vowed to protect the LGBT community from “Islamic” terrorists.

* CONSENSUS GROWS THAT RUSSIA HACKED DNC: The Times reports that U.S. spy agencies now have “high confidence” that Russia stole the DNC emails that were leaked and are now roiling the presidential race, though there’s this caveat:

American intelligence agencies have their doubts that the Russian intention, at least initially, was to sway the American election. The intrusion began just shortly after Mr. Trump announced his candidacy….At the time, his chances looked minuscule. One senior official noted that while the cyberattack might have been intended to embarrass Mrs. Clinton…it could not have been aimed at bolstering Mr. Trump.

But a new interview has emerged in which the Wikileaks founder suggested the release of the emails was timed to damage Clinton, so that may constitute an effort to influence the election.

 * PELOSI SAYS DEMS COULD TAKE BACK HOUSE: Nancy Pelosi tells the Post that if the election were held today, Dems might take back the House: “I think we would win.” And:

If Pelosi reclaims the speakership, it will probably be because another woman — Hillary Clinton — has won the White House. Such a scenario would produce a watershed moment in Washington and American politics: Two women, for the first time ever, would control the levers of power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

But as Pelosi adds, the election isn’t today. Taking back the House still seems highly unlikely, though a narrowed GOP majority could make it easier for Dems to move their agenda.

* THE GOAL OF BILL CLINTON’S SPEECH: E.J. Dionne comments:

Clinton haters…no doubt hated the speech. Clinton’s supporters…were mesmerized, moved and inspired. And the swing voters?…I’d be very surprised if Bill Clinton’s efforts failed to get them at least to give his wife another look, to be interested in going beyond what they think they know about her, and to consider the testimony of those who know her best.

Key goal: to get voters who have been told for years they should have vague doubts about her to reconsider whether they really know her. Keep an eye on whether her personal numbers move.

* AND TRUMP FLIP-FLOPS ON MINIMUM WAGE TWICE IN ONE INTERVIEW: After Bill O’Reilly said there “has to be” a federal minimum wage, this happened:

“There doesn’t have to be,” Trump said. “I would leave it and raise it somewhat. You need to help people. I know it’s not very Republican to say…I would say 10….But with the understanding that somebody like me is going to bring back jobs. I don’t want people to be in that $10 category for very long. But the thing is, Bill, let the states make the deal.”

So basically, Trump flip-flopped and then back-flipped, holding three different positions in succession. The real story here is that Trump has no actual position on the minimum wage. His whole candidacy is a scam.