THE MORNING PLUM:
If there was one single overarching goal in President Obama’s remarkable speech to the nation last night, it was this: To cast not just Donald Trump, but Trumpism writ large, as a unique and even existential threat to the American experiment itself.
This was a lofty philosophical project, and it was widely seen as such in the commentary that greeted the speech immediately after it concluded. But underneath it was a cold, hard, long-term calculation: The GOP’s nomination of Trump, some Democrats believe, has created a unique opportunity for the Democrats to lay claim to the mantle of sober, responsible, sane, and mature governing party in a manner that could transform our politics to an unforeseen degree in coming years. This morning, there are indications that some conservatives agree with this, too.
Obama made an extensive case for Hillary Clinton as the most experienced and prepared candidate for the presidency in American history. But he also tore into Trump as a unique menace to American values and American democracy. He urged the country to see Trumpism as the embodiment of a dangerous rejection of pluralism and tolerance and an embrace of “hate” — refreshingly, Obama explicitly used that word. He squarely placed Trump’s status as a “homegrown demagogue” in a lineup of other threats to the American democratic experiment, such as fascism, communism, and jihadism. He asked Americans not to allow their frustration with the grinding difficulties of democracy to make them more susceptible to Trump’s promise to fix everything “alone” through “strength,” in effect asking them not to succumb to authoritarian demagoguery.
Crucially, though, Obama also took care to cast Trumpism as an outlier even relative to the Republican Party and to conservatism. As he put it:
“What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican and it sure wasn’t conservative. What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems, just the fanning of resentment and blame and anger and hate. And that is not the America I know.”
CNN has a round-up of reaction from leading conservatives. Some appreciated that Obama clarified that Trumpism is not the equivalent of conservatism. Others acknowledged the optimism of the speech and lamented the gaping space that Trump’s rage-and-hate candidacy has left for Democrats to inhabit. Still others raged at the Republican Party for nominating someone who has cleared that space. And note this, from former Jeb Bush operative Tim Miller:
Will a Trump apologist explain to me why an 18 yo watching the conventions would want to be a Republican? We're giving away a generation
— Tim Miller (@Timodc) July 28, 2016
The chatter in Democratic circles is very much along these lines. Some Democrats believe that the GOP’s nomination of Trump has created an opening to make deeper-than-usual inroads among GOP-aligned constituencies, such as white and suburban women and college educated whites. More broadly, they see a chance to deepen the long term contrast — in the minds of a new, coming-of-age generation of voters — between a Republican Party tattooed by Trump’s recklessness, ignorance, contempt for policy, pathologically abusive tendencies, and reactionary ethno-nationalism, and a Democratic Party increasingly characterized by competence, maturity, and an openness to culturally and demographically diversifying America.
Obama’s speech very much laid the groundwork for a serious effort to deepen all of those dynamics, by essentially inviting Republican, conservative, and GOP-leaning independent voters to consider the uniqueness of this election — and the unique nature of the Trump threat — as they make their choice.
Obviously there is no telling whether there is any chance of this working. Trump could still win, or Hillary Clinton could still prevail in an extremely close contest driven by structural factors that ensure that these races are almost always very close. It’s also perfectly possible that Clinton could win and the GOP could turn things around again very quickly in 2018 and 2020. But it’s notable that even some conservatives think the GOP could be in the process of doing itself untold long-term damage.
* OBAMA’S GOAL WAS TO GO BIG: David Nakamura reports on the overarching goal of Obama’s speech:
Aides said…that the president’s aim was to not to dwell on his own accomplishments or to offer a point-by-point rebuttal of Trump’s insults or criticisms. Rather, they said, his goal was to make the case for Clinton’s qualifications while squarely addressing the broader national debate over America’s values and moral character in the wake of Trump’s rise.
Well, he certainly succeeded in doing that.
* EXPERTS SHOCKED AT TRUMP’S APPEAL TO RUSSIA: The New York Times reports that experts in foreign relations are shocked by Trump’s call to Russia to find Clinton’s emails and release them to the press:
“This is unprecedented — it is one of those things that seems to be genuinely new in international relations,” said Paul Musgrave, a University of Massachusetts professor…Mr. Musgrave worried that such language could weaken norms, even if only slightly, against foreign involvement in American politics. “Trump is legitimating behaviors that nobody ever thought could be legitimated,” Mr. Musgrave said, calling the incident “one of those reminders about how fragile norms are.”
But Trump distracted the media from covering the convention (for a few hours, when no big acts were on) so surely the awful headlines and outpouring of criticism can only help him politically.
* NIGHT TWO BEATS THE GOP CONVENTION IN RATINGS: CNN’s Brian Stelter reports on the ratings for Tuesday:
Night two of the Democratic convention drew a 25 percent bigger audience than night two of the Republican convention last week. Former President Bill Clinton’s prospective “first gentleman” speech was seen by roughly 24.7 million viewers across seven broadcast and cable channels, Nielsen said. The same night of the RNC last week averaged 19.8 million viewers across the same channels.
Should be interesting to see whether Barack Obama and Tim Kaine last night, and Hillary Clinton tonight, outperform the GOP gathering — particularly how the audiences match up on Clinton versus Trump.
* REPORTER BARRED FROM ENTRY TO GOP EVENT: Post reporter Jose DelReal was barred from entering a Mike Pence rally, and patted down by police:
DelReal…was stopped…by a private security official who told him he couldn’t enter the building with his laptop and cellphone. When DelReal asked whether others attending the rally could enter with their cellphones, he said the unidentified official replied, “Not if they work for The Washington Post.” After placing his computer and phone in his car, DelReal returned to the line and was detained again by security personnel, who summoned two county sheriff’s deputies. The officers patted down DelReal’s legs and torso, seeking his phone, the reporter said.
But Clinton won’t hold press conferences, which makes her just as big a threat to press freedom as Trump’s operation is.
* WHY FIVE THIRTY EIGHT IS BULLISH ON TRUMP: Some models (such as The Upshot’s) give Clinton a far better chance of winning than Five Thirty Eight’s model does. Nate Silver explains that his model is more sensitive to momentary shifts in the polling than others are, which means Trump’s post-convention bounce is a larger factor:
Our models show better numbers for Trump mostly because they’re more aggressive about detecting trends in polling data. For the past couple of weeks — and this started before the conventions, so it’s not just a convention bounce — there’s been a strong trend away from Clinton, and toward Trump….if Clinton rebounds next month, our models may be among the first to show that as well.
So chill out and wait to see what the polls tell us next month.
* OBAMA OFFERS ‘CONTINUITY YOU CAN BELIEVE IN’: A great point from E.J. Dionne about Obama’s speech last night:
Thus did a leader who won office promising “change we can believe in” turn to the task of defending continuity we can believe in. He made a compelling case that, compared with what a Trump presidency would look like, continuity is looking better by the day. “The America I know is decent and generous,” he said. It was a description. It was also a hope.
Of course, it will be on Clinton to actually sell that continuity tonight, by explaining (one hopes) in as much detail as possible what it, and her agenda, would look like.
* AND BLOOMBERG RIPS TRUMP AS RAVING, DANGEROUS MADMAN: Former New York mayor and media billionaire Michael Bloomberg, in his speech last night, declined to endorse any particular party or platform, and said this:
“Whatever our disagreements may be, I have come here to say: We must put them aside for the good of our country, and we must unite around the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue….There is no doubt in my mind that Hillary Clinton is the right choice this November,” Bloomberg concluded. “So tonight, as an independent, I am asking you to join with me not out of party loyalty, but out of love of country. And together, let’s elect a sane, competent person.”
Dems often raise questions about Trump’s “temperament.” It’s good to see it stated more clearly that Trump is a raging sociopath.