Your cheat sheet to the final night of the Democratic convention
If the goal of conventions is to fire up the base (it is), then on their last night, Democrats did what they needed to do. For the most part.
For the Hillary Clinton supporters, Thursday was filled with mic drop moments. From fiery preachers:
To Retired Gen. John Allen, who led America’s fight against the Islamic State and who gave strong rebuke of Donald Trump’s foreign policy experience while praising Clinton’s judgment.
To Khizr Khan, the father of an American Muslim soldier killed in action, who pulled out a Constitution from his suit pocket and offered it to Trump in an impactful moment of stagecraft:
To Chelsea Clinton, who vouched for her mother’s character by sharing how her mother picked her up after she fell -- and how she watched her mother regroup from her own falls.
And finally, after four days of speeches, to Clinton herself. She accepted her party's presidential nomination with soaring rhetoric expounding America’s strengths and preaching inclusiveness.
Every word spoken on stage Thursday seemed carefully curated to be a mirror image to the dark, gloomy picture of America that Trump and Republicans painted in Cleveland last week. And, yes, Clinton took more than a few jabs at him:
Thursday night was, without question, a moment Clinton had been working for the past eight years — likely more. And it was the result most established Democrats had hoped and toiled for.
But the night was far from picture perfect for Democrats. Allen’s speech was punctuated every few sentences by chants of “USA! USA! USA!,” ostensibly to drown out liberal protesters chanting “No more war!”
And Republicans circulated a video of a medal of honor recipient being greeted by the same chants as he walked on stage. Some Bernie Sanders supporters, conspicuous in their neon yellow shirts, had their backs turned during parts of the program.
So frequent were the interruptions Thursday, whenever the audience broke out in spontaneous cheers, it was safe to assume they were doing it to cover up protests -- who appeared to seize every moment to express their displeasure with reality.
It happened several times during Clinton’s own acceptance speech, which, somewhat ironically, appeared heavily influenced by Sanders himself. She specifically called for raising the minimum wage, getting money out of politics, expanding health care, creating debt-free college and using caution on trade deals — pretty much Sanders’s entire policy platform. And she made sure to give him a shout out.
So did the Democratic Party do what it needed to do to get ready for November? If the party is made up of only the thousands who were in the convention hall in Philadelphia on Thursday, then no.
But the party is much broader than its die hard supporters. A recent Pew Research poll found some 90 percent of Sanders supporters say they’ll vote for Clinton in November.
The real question is whether Clinton can come out of this convention more likeable with the general public. For the Americans who aren’t thrilled with either choice they have this November, did she and the dozens and dozens of supporters who spoke on her behalf — including the Democratic Party’s biggest stars — make her a more palatable option than Donald Trump? The answer will likely determine who wins 100 days from now.
Your cheat sheet to night three of the Democratic convention
Democrats’ biggest stars make the case for Hillary Clinton
If Democrats spent the first two days of their convention looking (and sometimes fighting) inward, on Wednesday they turned their attention outward. Specifically to Donald Trump.
And really, Trump opened the door wide open for Democrats to spend their third night bashing him. Hours earlier, he appeared to suggest Russia hack into Hillary Clinton's emails.
But Democrats were likely going to do it anyway. (Bash Trump, that is.) That's because their election strategy depends on making Trump more unlikeable than Clinton.
Clinton and Trump are two of the least-liked major-party candidates in modern political history, and they're on a trajectory to fighting one of the nastiest general elections in modern political history. The path to victory is not necessarily to make either candidate palatable to a majority of voters, but to the other candidate unpalatable to a majority of voters.
Democrats — and one prominent independent — laid out their game plan to do that Wednesday with a series of one liners directed at Trump:
Actually, Biden's speech was much more than one liners. Through a vacillation of tone that took the audience on an emotional ride, he delivered one of the week's most effective rebukes of Trump so far. As my colleague Aaron Blake pointed out, Biden wove together humility — “I know I'm called middle-class Joe, and in Washington that's not meant as a compliment” — and red meat - “No major-party nominee in the history of this nation has ever known less or has been less prepared to deal with our national security” — to make a memorable speech that fired up the base.
Next, it was the president's turn. Obama spent much of his speech talking about the progress he's made in eight years: a recovering economy, expanded health care, legalized same-sex marriage, and why Clinton will continue his fight. As a president popular with roughly 70 to 80 percent of Democrats -- an unusually high amount for a president nearing the end of his term -- his words carried extra weight as he vouched for Clinton.
Wednesday wasn't all focused on Trump or Clinton. Several of the night's most prominent speakers went out of their way to reach out to still-disgruntled Sanders supporters, whose opposition to the ticket seems to be fizzling as the week goes on.
Clinton's vice president pick, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he's “feeling the Bern,” prompting chants of “Bernie!” from the crowd. It was a risky move for Kaine, a moderate who's been at the center of liberals’ ire this week, but whether through luck or skill, the moment didn't get away from him.
Meanwhile, Obama leveraged his popularity to try to smooth over what hurt feelings are left.
Judging by how fired up the convention hall was at the end of a night of speeches by the party's heavy hitters, we can expect much more of Obama and Biden and others on the campaign trail for Clinton this fall.
Your cheat sheet to night two of the Democratic convention
Democrats reflect on a historic moment.
If the first night of Democrats’ convention was for letting Bernie Sanders voters vent, the second night seemed geared toward reflection — reflection of some really big themes, like women’s rights and civil rights and our nation’s current struggles with race, and Hillary Clinton’s place in it all.
Let’s break down Tuesday’s Democratic convention — the night Hillary Clinton formally won the nomination — by what Democrats chose to reflect on.
They reflected on the historic moment
Clinton became the first woman to win a major-party nomination at 6:56 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, when South Dakota’s delegates put her over the majority. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ceremoniously proposed Clinton be declared winner of the nomination.
A little trivia for you: As my colleague Aaron Blake points out, if Clinton wins in November, her historic presidency would come after more than 60 other countries have already had women leaders. But her win is novel in that very few women actually win presidential contests. (They tend to be more successful in parliamentary elections.)
They reflected on America’s civil rights past
The night turned much more somber when Democratic and civil rights leaders took the stage to reminisce on just how far they say America has come in its acceptance of minorities, using Clinton's historic nomination Tuesday night as a marker.
They reflected on today’s struggles with race
Also on Tuesday, Black Lives Matters supporters got their biggest political platform yet when mothers whose black children had been killed by gun violence — some by white police officers — took the stage to share their horror stories and call for reforms.
As the mothers were speaking, the audience chanted “Black Lives Matter!”
Their appearance gave Democrats an opportunity to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement, which has gone from taking over the stage of Democratic candidates during the primary to sharing it when them. It’s also a direct contrast from Republicans’ convention in Cleveland last week, which embraced the opposing Blue Lives Matter movement.
They reflected on Hillary Clinton’s past
Tuesday night was geared around highlighting Clinton’s accomplishments — as first lady, a senator and secretary of state. Her campaign feels her resume has been drowned out by decades of media coverage of her personal and political dramas.
And dozens of speakers, both famous and not, testified how well Clinton has done her various jobs. But there was one man whose job it was to introduce to America a side of Clinton few have ever seen. And Bill Clinton did it.
He walked an enthralled convention audience from the moment he met Clinton in the library of Yale Law school, to the times she rejected his proposal for marriage, to their lives raising their daughter, Chelsea, to Clinton following him for his career, to her growing into her own political career. It was a long speech, but it was filled with adoration for his wife, and the audience loved it.
They didn’t reflect on disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters
Tuesday was by no means a kumbaya moment for the entire Democratic Party.
After Clinton won the nomination, hundreds of Sanders supporters walked out of the convention hall in Philadelphia. The seats for delegates from Maine, Kansas, Alaska and Oklahoma — states Sanders won handily — were mostly empty on Tuesday evening.
But the show went on. And after letting Sanders speak Monday night and having him formally announce Clinton's nomination Tuesday, the Democratic Party doesn't have much else on the docket to try to assuage frustrated delegates. Instead, the party seems to be betting that time will heal wounds. “It’s a process,” Vice President Joe Biden told reporters on Tuesday. “You gotta give people a chance to kinda get over it, and they’re getting over it."
We’ll see how much closer Democrats are to unity on Wednesday, when Biden himself speaks. And on Thursday we’ll hear from Clinton herself. (In person. She surprised the crowd by showing up on video in the final moments Tuesday, surrounding by cheering women and girls. "One of you is next," she told them.)
Your cheat sheet to night one of the Democratic convention
Night one belonged to Bernie.
Actually, the quote of the night probably should be “booo.” That’s what we heard over and over from Bernie Sanders supporters the first night of the convention, who were heard booing in the opening hour just about every time someone on stage said “Hillary Clinton."
For a party that desperately wants to pitch itself as the functional party to Republicans’ dysfunction, this was not a good start.
Democrats spent much of the first night trying to assuage hurt feelings and defiant Sanders supporters. They brought out comedian Sarah Silverman, a Bernie Sanders supporter herself who said to boos (what else?) “I’m voting for Hillary with gusto."
They even brought out Elizabeth Warren, a liberal icon before Bernie Sanders was a national sensation, who spent a good chunk of her time bashing Donald Trump to essentially make the case that Clinton is great by comparison:
But the first night of the convention wasn’t really Hillary’s night. It was Bernie’s. He headlined Monday’s convention to a raucous crowd that sounded like it came straight from one of his hundreds of to-capacity rallies from this past year.
Much of the themes Sanders touched on were the same as his rallies too: economic inequality, student loan debt, getting money out of politics.
Except he said this:
Let’s not forget that’s a remarkable thing for Sanders to say, much less publicly to his most ardent supporters. He took four long weeks to endorse Clinton after she clinched the nomination in June; an eternity in politics.
Now Sanders seems ready to vote for Clinton, even if his supporters (at least those in Philadelphia for the convention this week) aren’t.
It was no coincidence that speeches by Sanders supporters — and Sanders himself — came the first night of the convention. It was an acknowledgment from Team Clinton that the party still has healing to do after its contentious primary.
Their job was made much more difficult over the weekend. Revelations on the eve of the convention that top Democratic Party officials sent emails appearing to try to undermine Sanders’s campaign only exacerbated those divisions — and make Sanders supporters dig in their heels.
So, did Sanders’s appeal to his own supporters work to calm tensions that have so far dominated the first day of the convention? We’ll find out over the next few days. A reminder that it’s not like Bernie or Bust supporters have any sort of procedural maneuvers to stop Clinton from getting the nomination — but they can make her life more difficult this week by not being happy about it.