After a day that demonstrated weaknesses in both presidential candidates, a series of high-powered surrogates for Hillary Clinton impugned Donald Trump from the Democratic convention stage Wednesday, aiming at the voters she will need for victory in November.
President Obama leaned toward a young generation that helped secure his two terms. Vice President Joe Biden appealed to blue-collar Americans. Former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg implored independents. Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, reached out to Republicans who feel abandoned by their party.
It is a strategy that the Clinton campaign will have to employ for months if she is to win in November.
Clinton enters the general election sprint as a woefully unpopular politician. One of the best things she has going for her is that her opponent, Republican nominee Trump, is in precisely the same position — but with far less in the way of backup.
Transferring popularity is a difficult, sometimes impossible, task, though in Clinton’s case it can’t hurt that Obama’s standing has rebounded significantly as the contest to replace him has heated up. And Biden, now in the final months of a four-decade-plus political career, has always been popular among the working-class Americans with whom he grew up.
They and the others played on their connections to Clinton’s benefit Wednesday.
Obama asked Americans to reject the “cynicism” that he said Trump represents and spoke to the optimism he said he sees in America.
“I see a younger generation full of energy and new ideas, not constrained by what is, ready to seize what ought to be,” he said, generating a roar from Democratic delegates, many of them youthful.
Biden, with sardonic Irish sass, called Trump a man who “has no clue, period.”
“He’s trying to tell us he cares about the middle class?” Biden shouted. “Give me a break! That’s a bunch of malarkey!”
Kaine, making his debut as the official vice presidential nominee, spoke of his Republican father-in-law, also a former governor of Virginia as well as a civil rights champion, who feels his party has become unmoored.
“If any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln, we’ve got a home for you right here in the Democratic Party,” the Virginia senator said.
Bloomberg, a former Democrat-turned-Republican who is now unaligned, asked voters to set aside party loyalty.
“I say to my fellow independents: Your votes matter now,” he said. “Your vote will determine the future of your job, your business, and our future together as a country. To me, this election is not a choice between a Democrat and a Republican. It's a choice about who is better to lead our country right now.”
Clinton and Trump both need character witnesses because they each have inflicted so much damage upon themselves.
Wednesday provided an example.
In an extraordinary news conference in Doral, Fla., Trump invited Russia to hack into more than 32,000 emails that Clinton had deleted from the private server she used while secretary of State. Clinton said those emails were private; she turned over an additional 30,000 to government officials investigating her use of the server.
Experts believe that Russian agents are behind the hacking and release of another trove of emails from the Democratic National Committee, which spurred controversy when it showed internal support for Clinton among the ostensibly neutral committee’s staff.
“Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said on Wednesday. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Asked repeatedly if he had any pause about seeming to suggest that a foreign adversary hack into the emails of a high-ranking U.S. official, Trump said he did not.
“Now, if Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I'd love to see them,” he said.
His comments drew angry responses from Democrats and national security officials. Republicans, including Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, warned Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, to stay out of the U.S. elections.
Yet Trump’s stumble was only possible because of Clinton’s decision to use the personal server in the first place.
That has proved to be one of her most damaging moves, haunting her throughout the primaries and now into the general election. Her decision to make speeches to Wall Street interests for hundreds of thousands of dollars each has posed a similar problem.
Both have contributed to the biggest knock on Clinton in this campaign: the belief that she is untrustworthy and plays by her own rules. Her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, used Clinton’s actions to craft an argument against her that Trump has now lifted for his purposes.
That is where her army of surrogates in the ranks of elected officials, activists and celebrities may be beneficial. And Trump has no corollary, since he has been shunned by well-known members of the Republican Party even as he has taken over as its leader.
The surrogates took on Trump with relentless scorn. But they also, to a person, embraced an optimistic vision of a country that, as Obama said, Trump casts as a crime-ridden chasm.
“We are not a fragile people; we’re not a frightful people,” Obama said. “Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don’t look to be ruled.”
He also echoed the call for hope that marked his campaigns.
That may be a difficult concept to graft onto Clinton, who inspires not the soaring poetry of Obama, but a more workmanlike prose.
It may have been Bloomberg who struck the proper note in his remarks, when he spoke of the low expectations that many in the nation have for a race that features two candidates untouched by universal acclaim.
“Together,” he said, “let’s elect a sane, competent person.”