And now, the Democrats take center stage

Aug 3, 2016

T.J. Rooney and Alan Novak review the GOP convention and look ahead to this week’s gathering of Democrats.

Rooney: I believe you are going to see a much, much, much different convention in virtually every way. The goal for Hillary Clinton will be to continue what has occurred since she has become the presumptive nominee.
The next four days will bake into the minds of the average voters the narrative that Donald Trump is dangerous, he’s reckless, and he cannot be trusted with his finger on the button. Clinton’s advertising in swing states is driving this message relentlessly across America. The convention will hyper-jump-start all of that in Pennsylvania and on the national platform.

Novak: There will be a major difference with how both conventions appear. The fact is, Clinton is not a popular candidate, and neither is Trump. Clinton has to use her convention to build the public’s confidence in her. She has very low ratings on trust. She has to overcome that by contrasting it with her experience.

Republicans are using her experience as a record to run against. At the Democratic convention, her experience will be portrayed in a very positive way. So, you may not feel warm and fuzzy about her. You may not even like her, but they’ll present her experience as that credibility she needs to run the country. The Democrats will use this message to draw an even starker contrast to Trump than perhaps the Republicans have to Clinton.

Rooney: The differences will be profound in the tone, tenor, and intent – and the intent will be to provide people with an enhanced level of confidence in Clinton’s ability to be president of the United States. That will be done with powerful surrogates, recognizable faces and names, and it will serve to expand her appeal beyond stalwart Democrats.

This convention will target people who supported Bernie Sanders and people who live in areas like the Philadelphia suburbs. Simply by working in messages to appeal to people like the independent, moderate-leaning Republicans living in suburban Philadelphia will compare in stark and dramatic contrast with what we saw last week in Cleveland.

Novak: The Republican convention was all about not trusting government to do more than the basics. It was about pulling government back and focusing on core functions like protecting people from terrorism at home and abroad and getting regulations out of the way so businesses and the economy can get jump-started. We heard about supporting the police and stepping away from government-run health-care programs.

The Democrat convention will be about trusting government to do even more in the economic and social aspects of our lives. The country will hear a lot about government involvement in income equality, gender equality, and sexual-lifestyles equality. Those are two very stark visions of not just two candidates but of what each party wants to do should it end up controlling the levers of government.

Rooney: Campaigns are very much like plays. There are many different moving parts to a campaign and they all work toward the crescendo in the end. The acts of the campaign – the rollout, the fund-raising, recruiting volunteers and harnessing their energy to produce something in the end – are all designed for the candidate to get 50 percent plus one.

All things being equal, Democrats alone can’t win the election, and Republicans alone cannot win the election. There are large swaths of people in the middle who oftentimes decide the outcome of the election. In this case the Democratic convention will go to much greater lengths to ensure that more people are drawn to it.

What we saw in Cleveland wasn’t an expansion of the political base for Trump. It was more an attempt to corral the Republicans, and it fell flat.

Novak: Both conventions are vehicles to raise as high as possible the profile, prospects, and numbers for each of the parties’ candidates. I don’t know that either convention does as much to change the minds of voters as opposed to bring back the bases of both parties. I don’t know that the Democratic convention will be a vehicle to win over swing voters.

Rooney: A convention is a tremendous opportunity you only get once in a campaign. Republicans didn’t take the opportunity to recast Trump as someone who can have broad-based appeal. The Democratic convention now offers Clinton an enhanced opportunity to the American people.

Alan is not incorrect that there is a trust deficit. That is something that Clinton must take on and overcome. The convention will be a showcase of her talents and abilities in order to raise voters’ confidence in Clinton’s ability to do the job. Conversely, and adversely, you will also see story after story and testimony after testimony about how Trump is unstable and how he is a risky gamble on America’s future. That fits in with all the paid advertising. That kind of coordination and discipline by the candidate and the party bodes well for Clinton now and into the fall. Based upon what we saw in Cleveland, the outcome for Clinton will be far more advantageous than it was for Trump.

Novak: This election cycle may end up being more about themes than candidates. There is one significant theme in this election. Do we want major change or not? The Republican convention, despite some distractions, was about all the reasons we need to make a change and what that will look like. The Democratic convention will be about why we don’t need change and how government needs to do more.

Both parties are betting that they have figured out the overriding theme of the election. If the independent voters have decided this country needs major change – then it doesn’t matter. The campaigns will have no way to change the theme any more than castles change tides.

T.J. Rooney and Alan Novak are principals of RooneyNovak Group Bipartisan Solutions and appear together regularly to discuss political issues and debate policy. Contact them at and alan@rooneynovak.

Note: This column first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Currents section on July 24, 2016.

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