Can Hillary convince voters she’s the optimistic candidate?

Published 9:33 am Wednesday, July 27, 2016

by John Micek

After four days of doom and gloom in Donald Trump’s America, Democrats have a deceptively simple task to accomplish with their convention this week:

Namely, convincing broad swaths of voters that Hillary Clinton and her new running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, possess the right mix of optimism and practicality to lead the nation for the next four years.

They begin that effort, if not on first base, then halfway down the path at least.

In Cleveland last week, Trump promised an unconventional Republican National Convention. And he delivered — if not always in the way that he expected.

From the “Did She Plagiarize or Not?” flap over Melania Trump’s opening night speech and a short-lived floor rebellion to an apoplectic Rudy Giuliani raging that no Democrat could string together the words “Radical Islamic Terrorism” and Ted Cruz’s grand act of political seppuku, if Republicans located an opportunity to spectacularly flame out, they grabbed it.

More than once last week, Trump’s partisans compared him to the mythical, happy warrior version of Ronald Reagan.

But in a gloomy speech that stretched to an epic 75 minutes, there was little of Reagan’s idealistic sparkle. Trump, instead, evoked another Republican: Richard Nixon.

Finding a threat around every corner and under every rock, Trump channeled his inner strongman, telling the crowd that he had a “message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police: when I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country … believe me.”

And in case anyone missed the point, he added: “In this race for the White House, I am the Law and Order candidate.”

For Democrats, some of the early signs for countering that death metal message are encouraging. That a certain “Man from Hope” will be on the stage, will no doubt help.

Gathering about them more star-power and celebrity wattage than the GOP managed last week in Cleveland (Scott Baio? That other guy from Duck Dynasty and a soap actor), the stage is already set for a glitzy coming out party.

The Democrats have enlisted “Girls” star Lena Dunham and pop singer Katy Perry, among others, to their cause.

But even before the first whack of the gavel at the Wells Fargo Center, Democrats were doing damage control.

The DNC’s big week opened under a cloud, with groans from progressives about Kaine, whom they do not view as sufficiently liberal; a WikiLeaks email dump that confirmed the existence of an effective shadow campaign against Bernie Sanders; and the same threats of protest and disruption that were the hallmark of Fortress Cleveland.

But what Democrats have going for them that Republicans do not is that more party members embrace Clinton than Republicans do Trump.

The reluctant speeches by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which sometimes looked like hostage videos, drove that point home.

Democrats went in a different direction.

Over the weekend, the DNC’s Rules Committee voted to create a “Unity Commission,” that bound the convention’s so-called “super-delegates” to the results of the party primaries and caucuses. With Sanders’ strong performance in many states, that could smooth over the fallout from the WikiLeaks incident.

On Wednesday, Clinton will have her most effective advocate, President Barack Obama, who’s riding a historic wave of popularity as he gets ready to retire to Hawaii and a life of Big Thoughts, offer both an endorsement and a catalog of successes under the nearly eight years of his administration.

The only worry is that the hugely popular, sitting president will perhaps overshadow the nominee herself. Ever capable at governing, Clinton remains an uncomfortable campaigner.

The addition of the genial Kaine will surely help in that regard.

Clinton’s biggest challenge this convention week, however, will be to convince delegates, and, by extension, the rest of the nation that, despite decades in power, that she has the chops and the message to counter Trump’s angry nativism.

With both candidates massively unpopular among broad swaths of general election voters that’s easier said than done.

An award-winning political journalist, JOHN MICEK is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at