Hillary Clinton sought to focus attention away from the turmoil gripping the Democratic Party on Monday and toward her policy agenda and the shortcomings of Donald Trump during an address to veterans that projected the themes of optimism and experience Democrats hope to carry through their convention.
Speaking in Charlotte, N.C., Clinton aggressively contrasted her resume and outlook on matters of national security with her Republican rival's bombastic foreign policy pronouncements and dour view of America's place in the world, as she competed for attention with infighting back at her party's convention in Philadelphia.
The audience of warriors whom Clinton faced proved far more peaceful than some of the delegates her colleagues were simultaneously seeking to reassure hours before the convention was to gavel in.
In her address to a gathering of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Clinton forcefully presented an alternative vision to the one Trump offered at last week's Republican National Convention. She pointedly praised Republican Sen. John McCain, whose time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam was mocked by Trump. She called into question Trump's fondness for the style of certain strongmen. And she attacked Trump's suggestion that advice from military leaders might be ignored were he to be commander in chief.
"You will never hear me say that I only listen to myself on national security," Clinton told the group of veterans, who will hear from Trump himself Tuesday. "If you want somebody who will scapegoat other people, peddle fear and smear, I am not your candidate."
Clinton took particular aim at Trump's plans for NATO. The Republican nominee has said the U.S. might not come to the aide of NATO partners who he believes have not contributed enough money to the alliance.
"I believe in standing with our allies because they are part of what makes us exceptional," Clinton said, telling the audience that the son of her running mate, Tim Kaine, was a Marine about to deploy to Europe. "America's word has to mean something."
Clinton mocked Trump's kind words for some of the world's more ruthless leaders. "One thing for certain you will not ever hear from me is praise for dictators and strongmen who have no love for America," she said. And she vowed never to "commit war crimes," a reference to Trump's suggestion that the military should use certain torture techniques.
"I'm not interested in talking provocatively," Clinton said. "I'm not interested in insulting people, including our military. I'm interested in bringing our country together. I'm interested in healing the divisions."
Both the Clinton and Trump campaigns see national security issues as central to their success. Trump is tapping into American concerns amid the proliferation of terrorist attacks, warning that the approach the Obama administration is taking is failing. He accuses Clinton of being an architect of Obama's policy on world affairs, and accuses both of them of allowing America to become weak and disrespected internationally.
The warnings proved effective at the Republican convention.
"They laid out very clearly and forcefully the question they want to litigate in this election," said Geoff Garin, pollster for the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA, during a panel in Philadelphia. "What we need out of this convention, too, is a clear definition of what the election is about ... what kind of country they want to lead us toward."
Democrats will work to erase the ground Trump picked up in Cleveland at their own convention, where they hope to rally voters around a vision of a country that is strong, moving forward and would only be undermined by Trump's proposals to rethink military alliances, ban Muslims from entering the country and mass deport immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
"The United States of America is an exceptional nation with capabilities that no other nation comes close to matching," Clinton said in her address to veterans. "We have the world's greatest military. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
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