Five things Bill Clinton needs to do with his convention speech
The pressure is on Bill Clinton to deliver one of the most important testimonials for his wife, Hillary Clinton, on Tuesday night when he headlines the Democratic National Convention.
The former president at midday Tuesday was still working on his speech, which he was crafting mostly by himself with the help of speechwriter Steven Rinehart, according to an aide familiar with the process.
It’s a reversal from his 2012 convention speech, when he enlisted the help of several longtime friends and former aides. This time, it's personal.
And he plans to make the personal central to his speech to convention delegates, many of whom remain more loyal to Sen. Bernie Sanders(I-Vt.) than to his wife, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
“He thinks that it's important for other people to know the secretary as well as he does,” the aide said. “So tonight's speech will very much be a personal one for him.”
Here are five things the former president needs to do in his speech:
Be the “explainer-in-chief”
Clinton delivered what many believed were the strongest arguments for why President Obama should be reelected in 2012, bringing down the house in Charlotte, N.C. Some Democrats, with perhaps a touch of hyperbole, said the speech single-handedly helped catapult Obama to a second term. Obama himself dubbed the former president the “secretary of explaining stuff.”
It was a particularly important moment for Clinton given the animosity between him and Obama during the 2008 primary.
This time, Clinton will seek to explain why Hillary Clinton should be president — and not GOP nominee Donald Trump.
In doing so, Democrats believe the former president can help his wife with independent voters and men, two groups that have gravitated toward Trump.
“He's great at showing how Democrats are better than Republicans in meeting our challenges in a way that doesn't come across as partisan,” said one longtime Clinton adviser. His common-sense approach, often with humor, can be very appealing to moderates and undecideds.”
But stick to the script
The former president has been an effective, if subdued, surrogate for Hillary Clinton during this election cycle. But he also tends to have a weak spot when it comes to her.
While he’s been better at not causing unforced errors during this election cycle — many blamed him for causing too much damage in 2008 — he got into a tiff or two with protesters at his events and caused headlines when he angrily interacted with Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
He also has a habit of going off script. This was an issue in 2012, though not one that seemed to hurt him.
Still, even longtime allies and friends say Bill Clinton shouldn’t stray too much from the teleprompter on Tuesday night.
“He can’t become the story,” one Hillary Clinton surrogate said. “He has to be the chief character witness.”
Show Hillary's personal side
Hillary Clinton has been struggling with trust and likability issues for much of the campaign. And who better to paint a portrait of the personal side of Clinton than her husband?
Spouses often speak at the convention with a primary role of humanizing their significant others. And Bill Clinton, who left office with approval ratings in the 70s and remains popular with Democrats and independents, can show the side of Hillary Clinton few people ever get to see.
Surrogates say they’d like to see the former president weave the thread through her life like no one has before and detail what motivates her and why people should feel confident that she’ll work for them.
“He is well able to focus on her personal qualities, including her smarts and experience, as well as her diligence, empathy and resilience,” the longtime adviser said. “He can testify to how the cause of children has really driven her work throughout her life and will continue to influence her presidency.”
They also say Bill Clinton should focus on the positive and not the negative. It would be unwise, they say, for him to focus on Trump’s sniping or conspiracy theories and tabloid headlines about the Clintons' marriage.
“You can spend too much time worried about the negatives,” one surrogate said. “But the negatives are the negatives. You want to minimize them, but what the campaign should do is highlight the positives about why one should be for her.”
Forget about 1992 and 1996
The Democratic Party has changed a lot, particularly when it comes to policy since the Bill Clinton era.
His involvement in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the 1994 crime bill became complicated issues for Hillary Clinton to explain to progressives this cycle. And the party’s platform is significantly more left-leaning — thanks to Sanders — than ever before in its history.
It highlights a $15 per hour minimum wage and progressive views on controlling Wall Street greed.
Bill Clinton, in many ways still the patriarch of the party, needs to give a nod to these issues even as Hillary Clinton aims to pivot back to the center for the general election.
But Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons pointed out that while policy has changed for the Democratic Party, “the message of unity and hope remains the same.”
“There are things he used to say that are applicable now. He said it best in 1993 when he said, ‘There is nothing wrong with America that can’t be cured by what’s right with America,’ ” Simmons said. “Nobody is better at expressing that optimism than him.”
Focus on the future
One of the most important things Bill Clinton can do on Tuesday night is start the conversation about how Hillary Clinton will pick up Obama's baton and keep running if she wins the presidency.
Even some Democrats are still in the dark about how exactly she'll connect the dots.
Two nights ahead of her acceptance speech, Bill Clinton can start laying the groundwork not only on how far Democrats say the nation has come in eight years, but on where Hillary Clinton can take it.
It would also be a message of hope that Democrats want to contrast with what they see as a message of fear sent by the Trump campaign last week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
News Edited By:
Kanwal Abidi - 063 News
Online Editor & Political Analyst