Many of the conservatives who watched with dismay as the Republican Party nominated Donald Trump have now watched with amazement as Democrats co-opted some of Republicans’ favourite themes at the Democratic National Convention.
Democrats’ thinking was clear: We’re the only political party left for grown-ups, so we’d better make sure we have something to offer voters on both sides of the aisle.
American exceptionalism and greatness, shining city on hill, founding documents, etc–they’re trying to take all our stuff
— Rich Lowry (@RichLowry) July 28, 2016
There was a clear choice about tone, especially on the last two days of the convention: Speakers would not mock conservatives for getting into bed with Donald Trump. They would mock Trump and make the case that conservatives should be embarrassed and ashamed that their party nominated him — and should look across the aisle at a party that shares more of their goals and values than they may have realised.
So the Democratic convention had retired military officers making the case for Hillary Clinton’s steady hand as commander in chief, paeans to Ronald Reagan, and optimistic messages about the indispensability and exceptional nature of America.
It had Michael Bloomberg explicitly noting that he disagrees with Clinton on many things, but that he will be voting for her because she is “a sane, competent person” — unlike that other guy.
A video introducing Hillary Clinton’s nomination-acceptance speech even went out of its way to praise George W. Bush for his support for New York’s post-9/11 rebuilding efforts.
A speech to make Republican elites feel sickened (as they should be) by what their party has nominated.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) July 28, 2016
This was a clear play for the votes of conservatives and, especially, moderates. But it doesn’t mean Democrats were lurching to the center. Rather than imitating Republicans, Democrats deftly combined Republicans’ tropes with their own.
Perhaps the most amazing example of this — one that I believe will be discussed for decades as an iconic political moment — was a speech by Khizr Khan, a Muslim immigrant and father of a US Army captain killed in action in Iraq. He took Trump to task for his demonization of Muslims and plans to bar them from the country.
Khan demanded to know whether Trump has ever even read the Constitution, then whipped out his own pocket version and offered to lend it to Trump.
You’ve got a lot of things to honour and celebrate there at once: Founding documents, military service, religious pluralism, immigration. It was a moment designed to appeal to the left and the right — at least, the principled parts of the right that truly care about religious freedom and not just Christian special pleading — all at once.
In some ways, this was the most left-wing Democratic convention of my lifetime. A goal of the convention was to convince leftists that Clinton is far enough left to earn their vote. Most of the Monday lineup was a celebration of Bernie Sanders and his movement, with lots of bragging about how many of Sanders’ ideas got into the platform, pushing the party leftward.
But the appeals to the center and the far left were not a contradiction. The convention sent the message that Clinton is the candidate for liberals and moderates and leftists and conservatives who feel horrified by Donald Trump, because that is what she is.
Clinton doesn’t agree with all those people about everything, and she disagrees with some of them about a lot of things. But she will be a fairly normal president who will uphold the norms ordinarily observed by both parties and allow our republic to continue functioning.
That’s a low bar, but it’s one the other party’s nominee can’t clear. And that’s why Clinton could convincingly hold a convention that promised to be so many things to so many people — and why so many conservatives sounded relieved by the olive branch the convention offered.
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