PHILADELPHIA — Hillary Clinton had the benefit of a Democratic National Convention that followed a Republican one, so it was not an entire surprise that she would contrast her campaign with the rhetoric of Donald Trump.
The entire week seemed to be a contrast to the Republican gathering in Cleveland, what with the Democrats steady stream of top-notch speakers, showbiz interludes and well-arranged moments of unexpected impact. That was especially apparent in the hour before Clinton took the stage, when Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim Army officer killed in Iraq, held up a copy of the Constitution and asked Trump, “Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”
The emotion of Clinton’s speech came not in the speech itself, but in the moment, as she noted, of the first female nominated to lead a major party ticket.
Still, her speech had its share of surprises:
Wonkishness: Clinton acknowledged the trouble she has connecting with voters — her speeches are not very often that memorable. But she did so by making the case for being more fixated on policy than the flashier aspects of politics. “It’s not just a detail if it’s your kid, if it’s your family. It’s a big deal. And it should be a big deal to your president,” she said.
Likability: Clinton also implicitly acknowledged her problems connecting with certain groups of voters, including those who are openly hostile to her. She did so in a way that was somewhat amusing.
“The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part,” she said. “I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me.”
Trump attacks: Clinton didn’t pass up the opportunity to tease, mock and warn of Donald Trump. “He spoke for 70-odd minutes – and I do mean odd,” she said. It’s not a surprise that she went after him, as one of her best received speeches so far was a San Diego address in which she used his words against him.
This time, she went after his propensity to refuse to pay his bills and for exporting Trump-label merchandise to other countries. Trump supporters are likely to argue that her theme of unity conflicted with attacks on him. That’s why her speech seemed aim more at winning over disaffected Republicans and conservatives rather than the die-hard Trump backers.
She did get in some good lines, though.
“Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis,” she said. “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
The press: Clinton also hammered Trump for not being able to handle the rigors of a presidential campaign, including questions from the press.
“He loses his cool at the slightest provocation,” she said. “When he’s gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he’s challenged in a debate. When he sees a protester at a rally.”
It was a curious line given Trump’s frequent press conferences and the very few that Clinton has had. It’s been a common complaint of her traveling press corps, but something that likely few in the target viewing audience will care about if they even noticed.
There were some reports that the convention planners sought out an appearance by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who just left the show after playing the lead for nearly a year.
Instead, she gave the show even more of a profile — in the final paragraphs of her speech, when she quoted some of its lyrics.
In her speech, she said, “Though ‘we may not live to see the glory,’ as the song from the musical ‘Hamilton’ goes, ‘let us gladly join the fight.'”
“Let our legacy be about ‘planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.'”
Miranda tweeted, “I’m with her. #AndShesBeenListeningToDiscTwo!”