Hillary Clinton built on a week of potent testimonials from the Democratic Party’s biggest stars, closing her nominating convention with an optimistic assessment of the country Thursday and casting her campaign as a fight to defend core American values against an opponent she depicted as unstable and unqualified.
The first woman to receive the presidential nomination of a major party, Clinton said she accepted it “with humility, determination and boundless confidence in America’s promise.” Her nearly hourlong address amounted to a sharply worded rejoinder to Donald Trump’s address to the nation one week ago.
“America is once again at a moment of reckoning,” Clinton said. “Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart. Bonds of trust and respect are fraying. And just as with our founders, there are no guarantees. … We have to decide whether we’re going to work together, so we can all rise together.”
Clinton’s speech bookended a week that started off rocky for the party as restive delegates supporting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders booed on the convention floor and embarrassing email disclosures forced the resignation of the party chair. But Democrats finished strong after leaders of varying factions delivered impassioned appeals for unity.
“We’re going to empower all Americans to live better lives,” Clinton said. “My primary mission as president will be to create more opportunity and more good jobs with rising wages right here in the United States, from my first day in office to my last, especially in places that for too long have been left out and left behind.”
Clinton presented a “stark” choice for voters on national security at a time of international turbulence, and took aim at Trump’s pronouncement that he alone can solve America’s problems.
“Americans don’t say, ‘I alone can fix it,’” she said, quoting Trump. “They say, ‘We’ll fix it together.’”
She warned repeatedly that Trump is not qualified for the job. “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man you can trust with nuclear weapons,” she said.
Democrats sought to capitalize on the chaotic events that unfolded a week earlier at the GOP convention in the swing state of Ohio, where the host governor declined to show up and the nominee’s main rival delivered a back-stabbing speech.
To punctuate the point, the lineup of speakers in Philadelphia on Thursday included Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. Lakers legend and civil rights activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made an appearance, as did pop star Katy Perry, whose empowerment-themed hits are played at most every public Clinton event. The day’s lineup, though, was notably light on star power, as anticipation built for Clinton, introduced by her daughter, Chelsea.
One of the convention’s most powerful moments came not from a political celebrity or Hollywood star, but the father of a Muslim American soldier who died in combat. Speaking before a hushed convention hall, Khizr Khan presented a question to Trump: “Have you even read the United States Constitution?” The crowd erupted into a roar when he pulled out his own copy and offered to lend it to him.
Throughout the night, sporadic shouts of “No more war!” broke out inside the convention hall, but they were quickly drowned out by a thunderous roar of “U-S-A! U-S-A!,” which seemed no accident; big American flags were positioned around the sports arena and delegates waved them in rhythm to the patriotic chants. The competing calls were loudest during an energetic and patriotic speech by retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen, a leader in the fight against Islamic State militants, who said a Clinton administration would ensure America continues its military dominance.
Clinton also praised the work Sanders has done to move progressive issues forward, and vowed that she would take up his crusade. “You’ve put economic and social justice issues front and center, where they belong,” she said. “And to all of your supporters here and around the country, I want you to know: I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause.”
The acceptance speech closed out a convention in which one after another, those closest to the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of State, as well as some whose lives she fleetingly touched, offered a series of humanizing anecdotes that sought to erase a “cartoon” image that has taken hold — the word her husband, former President Bill Clinton, used in delivering his personal testimonial.
In her address, Clinton acknowledged that she has had challenges relating to voters. “The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part,” she said. “I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me.”
Democrats have embraced a theme of optimism and hope, warning that Trump’s prescriptions for the challenge the country faces would divide Americans and turn them against one another.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that our country is weak,” she said. “We’re not. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t have what it takes. We do.”
Clinton presented herself as someone who worked for decades to create opportunities for Americans. Her historic role in breaking the gender barrier, a persistent theme of her campaign, drew some of the biggest applause when she turned to it.
“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” she said. “So let’s keep going, until every one of the 161 million women and girls across America has the opportunity she deserves.”
Invoking her 1996 book, “It Takes a Village,” Clinton said her interest in helping Americans live out their full potential has been a guiding principle throughout her life, not a politically expedient talking point. It is a case Democrats built throughout the week, seeking to draw a contrast with Trump, who was depicted as a charlatan who showed no regard for the working class until he needed its votes.
Clinton entered the convention in a strangely precarious position for a candidate who starts the fall campaign as a solid favorite to win the White House.
She is nowhere close to putting the contest away, and not just because there are three presidential debates scheduled and more than 100 days remaining before the Nov. 8 election.
Clinton is mistrusted and deeply disliked by a significant portion of the voting public; indeed, possibly the best thing she has going politically is the fact that repeated polls show Trump to be even more disliked and more deeply distrusted.
The four days of lavish tributes and glossy production were an effort to reintroduce Clinton to the tens of millions of Americans tuning in to the convention far from the boisterous hall — at least to the extent possible for a figure so deeply ingrained in political and popular culture.
Public opinion polls will show in the coming days whether the convention succeeds in that goal.
More than two decades ago, Bill Clinton, a national political newcomer at the time, entered the 1992 Democratic convention as a considerable underdog and benefited from a masterfully executed convention that reversed his political fortunes almost immediately.
By Hillary Clinton’s own assessment, she is nowhere near the political performer that her husband is. And she is one of the best-known women in the world, making it vastly more difficult to change perceptions.
But those facts helped diminish expectations for what was the most important speech of her more than 40 years in political life.
Clinton also made a pointed appeal in her speech to Sanders’ supporters, cognizant that she must unite a party still divided over the primary battle.
Hard feelings had carried over to the convention, where the mere mention of Clinton’s name elicited boos and catcalls on opening night.
The disgruntlement dwindled as the week wore on, thanks in good part to Sanders’ unqualified endorsement and efforts to tamp down dissent by urging backers to follow his example. Polls show that the overwhelming majority of Sanders’ primary voters are prepared to do so.
But small pockets of resistance persisted, in occasional shouts rising from the convention floor and scattered anti-Clinton demonstrations around the city.
8:45 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from Clinton.
7:50 p.m.: The story was updated with Hillary Clinton accepting the nomination.
7:20 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from Chelsea Clinton.
5 p.m.: This story was updated with excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s prepared remarks.
This story was originally published at 2:25 p.m.