Hillary Clinton and the Democrats should be worried.
Why? Because Donald Trump delivered Thursday night and did what he needed to do. No, he didn’t deliver a speech with great oratorical flourish. No, he didn’t broaden the base of the party significantly though he did speak about minorities and the LGBTQ community in ways that he hadn’t done before.
What Trump did, and he did it very well, was to raise the stakes of the election and define it in his own terms. Law and order, crime in the streets, and terror. He managed to make the argument, compellingly, that these challenges were the central ones America faced and that given the failures of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his way of change was the only way to go.
It was a long speech, it ran well over an hour and it was repetitive in parts. But that doesn’t matter. Trump was ultimately speaking to a fairly discrete and arguably specific constituency of Americans. Concentrated, though not exclusively, in the swing states of the industrial Midwest.
What Trump did, and he did it very well, was to raise the stakes of the election and define it in his own terms.
Trump’s remarks were directed at the 70-odd percent of Americans who feel the country is on the wrong track and his remarks were designed to amplify those feelings and offer – in general terms – a different way forward.
I don’t believe that the pundits necessarily will give this speech high marks and in my own terms, Trump did not do anything that he has not done before on the campaign trail. But what he did do is present a vision of America, a path forward, and a vision of leadership that is very, very different than what the country has had for the last eight years.
It was necessarily more non-partisan than traditional Republican speeches. Trump did not harp on Republicanism or conservatism, and indeed his own daughter Ivanka specifically underscored that her generation of millennials were not partisan in the way that older Americans were. Trump was speaking to commonsense, American concerns about safety and security, primarily, though not exclusively, of the working and middle class white Americans -- the people he called forgotten Americans, reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s silent majority.
Do I think this is enough to catapult Trump well into the lead? No I don’t. Do I think this will solidify his position and perhaps bring him even or put him into a slight advantage going into the Democratic Convention? I think that’s plausible but unlikely. I think, also, that in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, these remarks will help him significantly with precisely the voters and constituents he needs if he’s going to win the election.
It will be interesting to see how Secretary Clinton responds, not only to the substance of the speech, but to the atmospherics of the convention. It was a white convention; it was a convention that was not really able to broaden the demographic base of the Republican party. Secretary Clinton will almost certainly highlight substantial numbers of blacks, Latinos, and Asians in the four days to come in Philadelphia starting on Monday.
But she’s got another challenge, and one that is perhaps larger than what she expected. She needs to address the issues of law and order, safety, and security, as well as terrorism, in the way that Trump presented them given the challenges that we are all facing as Americans.
The other challenge Secretary Clinton will have is to make the case for globalism and for our role in the world.
Trump explicitly and clearly ruled it out.
He said that we need to put America first and put America before our role in the world. This goes against the credo and the values of American culture and foreign policy. But at a time when wages are stagnated, jobs are disappearing, and people are increasingly at risk and facing threats both at home and abroad, it may well be enough to turn an election that was beginning to appear issueless into the most profound, prominent, and I dare say, nation determinative contest in recent memory.