If the Democratic National Committee had hung a Donald Trump-shaped piñata over the stage during the third night of the Party’s nominating convention yesterday and obliged every speaker to take a ritual swing at it, the purpose of the evening could hardly have been clearer.
On a night heavy with high profile speakers, including a rapturously received President Barack Obama in what was likely the last major speech of his presidency, the unifying element of all the major speeches was the conviction that the Republican presidential nominee is a danger to the country.
The Democrats were, of course, unstinting in their praise for Clinton, who will officially accept their nomination tonight. Obama explicitly spoke of his readiness to “pass the baton” to the one-time rival who later served as his secretary of state for four years.
“There has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America,” he said, and even took a sort of victory lap around the convention stage with Clinton herself, who appeared unannounced to wild applause as he finished his remarks.
Vice President Joe Biden said, “There’s only one person in this race who will be there. Who’s always been there for you. And that’s Hillary Clinton’s life story.”
Clinton’s vice presidential nominee, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, in a speech peppered with fluent Spanish, spoke of his oldest son, a US Marine who recently deployed overseas. Praising Clinton’s judgment and experience, he said, “And as he’s serving our nation abroad, I trust Hillary Clinton with our son’s life.”
Following directly from that, though, Kaine veered to the subject of the Republican nominee. “You know who I don’t trust? Donald Trump,” he said. “The guy promises a lot. But you might have noticed he has a habit of saying the same two words right after he makes his biggest promises. You guys know the words I mean? ‘Believe me.’”
Kaine went on an extended riff about the lack of specificity behind Trump’s promises -- including a repeated attempt at an impression (and not a good one) of the New York billionaire’s speaking voice.
“It’s gonna be great – believe me! We’re gonna build a wall and make Mexico pay for it – believe me! We’re gonna destroy ISIS so fast – believe me! There’s nothing suspicious in my tax returns –believe me! By the way, does anyone here believe that Donald Trump’s been paying his fair share of taxes? Do you believe he ought to release those tax returns like every other presidential candidate in modern history? Of course he should. Donald, what are you hiding?”
It was the same up and down the ranks of the list of prime time speakers. Immediately after his promise that Clinton would always “be there” for the United States, Biden launched into a blistering attack on Trump, calling out his claim to be a champion of the American middle class.
“He is trying to tell us he cares about the middle class. Give me a break. That is a bunch of malarkey,” Biden roared.
He added, “No major party, no major party nominee in the history of this nation has ever known less or been less prepared to deal with our national security.”
Obama was openly scornful of Trump, whom he characterized at one point as a “homegrown demagogue.” He challenged the central premise of Trump’s campaign: the idea that America needs to be made “great again.”
“America is already great,” he said. “America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump,” he 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.”
The claim that the current state of the US and its future are far brighter than any of the scenarios Trump has laid out on the campaign trail was a common one Wednesday night -- a sub-theme that many observers pointed out sounded more like the optimistic and patriotic vision of America that used to be the stock-in-trade of GOP candidates.
But the evening was as much about attacking Trump as it was making a case for a continuation of Obama’s policies through Clinton. That became clear in the DNC’s choice to give prime-time speaking slots to two men whose support for her candidacy appears to rest more on her status as an alternative to Trump than on affection or respect for Clinton herself.
Former Defense Secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta, whose history with Clinton is somewhat checkered, was brought on after 8 p.m. to deliver the national security case against Trump. Like many, he assailed Trump’s suggestion that Russian hackers might be able to recover the tens of thousands of emails that Clinton controversially deleted from the home-based email server she used while secretary of state.
“You've got now a presidential candidate who is in fact asking the Russians to engage in American politics and I just think that's beyond the pale,” Panetta said. “I have a lot of concerns of his qualities of leadership or lack thereof. That kind of statement only reflects the fact that he truly is not qualified to be president of the United States.”
Former three-term New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was brought on to stick a dagger in the heart of Trump’s defining narrative of his life as an unbroken string of triumphs in the world of business. But Bloomberg, a billionaire 40 times over who, who served New York first as a Republican and then as an Independent, did so only after noting that he has multiple disagreements with Clinton on matters of policy. Still, he said, faced with Trump as the alternative, he argued that it is “imperative” to elect Clinton in the fall.
"There are times when I disagree with Hillary Clinton,” he said. “But let me tell you, whatever our disagreements may be, I've come here to say: We must put them aside for the good of our country. And we must unite around the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue."
Citing Trump’s history of business bankruptcies and lawsuits, Bloomberg said, “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he's running his business? God help us.”
Bloomberg ended with perhaps the most backhanded endorsement of a candidate ever uttered on a convention stage, urging listeners, “Let's elect a sane, competent person with international experience."