For Democrats, the convention in Philadelphia offers a chance to do what Hillary Clinton’s campaign so far has struggled to do — build excitement.
The former secretary of state, 68, enters the “City of Brotherly Love” this week with the necessary number of delegates to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, but she hasn’t induced much in the way of voter passion. The candidate cannot reasonably expect to win the White House on wishy-washy, she’s-not-so-bad support.
To propel Clinton into the Oval Office, the party apparatus must first appease and engage the backers of primary opponent Bernie Sanders. Their zeal for policy change has been apparent and effective, and it can be infectious.
The second and arguably more difficult task involves assuring anxious Americans who are itching for solutions to our big problems that a vote for the Democrat won’t be a vote for the same-old, same-old. The trick: Show the familiar Clinton – and equally familiar party planks – as something fresh.
This doesn’t mean whisking the former first lady onto the Wells Fargo Center’s stage atop a hoverboard. (And spare us any references from the podium about “Pokemon, Go.”)
Instead, respond directly to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s zinger last week, in which he said the Democratic Party establishment is “offering a third Obama term brought to you by another Clinton.”
Tell America’s undecided voters how the Democratic Party intends to adapt its policies to handle emerging threats at home and abroad. Explain how the party platform, as carried out by a Hillary Clinton administration, would energize the economy, soothe and improve race relations, and reform a government system too easily warped by special interests.
Don’t spout platitudes. Show Americans a plan.
Clinton’s staunchest supporters include people who want to see her smash the uppermost glass ceiling in the United States by becoming the first woman to be elected president. But other Americans of voting age have remained cool to Clinton; they include many millennials and other fence-sitters whose decisions ultimately will determine the victor in November’s election.
Polling indicates she remains a front-runner with unusually low favorability ratings.
Fortunately for Clinton, her election foe is Donald Trump. The real estate magnate’s favorability numbers, as measured well before the GOP convention that ended Thursday, were even lower.
In this race, it’s policy wonk vs. cult of personality, and plenty of potential voters seemingly don’t like the options.
In the short run, the Democratic Party will begin Monday to try to change public attitudes by using prime-time television exposure to build the case for its standard-bearer. Convention speakers at the four-day event will emphasize Clinton’s lengthy track record of service, accomplishments and activism on behalf of the American people.
In the longer term, the Democratic Party’s leaders must decide how to pivot to remain relevant. In 2016, Americans in large numbers are signaling dissatisfaction with the establishment. They want a responsive government. They crave results.
The party that traditionally has promised progress will need to deliver. It’ll need to be more nimble, changing more rapidly to suit an internet-weaned generation’s satisfaction.
By updating its internal rules and external priorities to meet society’s new expectations, the Democratic Party can stir people to take a closer look and reconsider their perceptions. And much like the highly anticipated introduction of each new iteration of a smartphone, it just might create some enthusiasm.