If the United States is in such a happy place, as Democrats have told us throughout their convention, why are so many people protesting outside the gates of the convention hall? Why have voters turned out to hear Donald Trump in such huge numbers, and why did 13 million people vote in the Democrat primaries for Bernie Sanders’ “revolution”?
Here’s the real challenge for Hillary Clinton: If 69 percent of the country thinks we are headed in the wrong direction, why would they vote for four more years of Barack Obama’s policies?
Bill Clinton gets that. With his trademark political IQ, the former president in his speech Tuesday night talked about Hillary the “change-maker,” trying to convince voters – and especially Bernie followers -- that she does not stand for the status quo.
But she does. The New York Times reports that the lobbyists and big money donors that Hillary pretends to abhor have flooded into Philadelphia, no longer lurking in the shadows. They’re being wooed and coddled with high-end digs and parties, and maybe, too, with promises of ambassadorships and political favors. That’s just politics at work, of course, but it’s the sort of business as usual activity that voters are fed up with, and rightly so.
Drug companies, health insurance firms and Wall Street scions are all in Philly to celebrate the Clinton nomination and to make sure Hillary remembers they were there at the creation. While the campaign was cautious about openly courting Big Money early on, worried that the Bernie Sanders army would disapprove, the shackles are off. Long-time Clinton donors like Tony James, head of private equity firm Blackstone – one of several Wall Street leaders presumed to be angling for a serious post if Hillary wins – and venture capitalist Alan Patricof have joined the festivities. So have people representing Apollo Education Group, a for-profit college outfit under investigation for shady dealings that could really use a helping hand from whoever becomes president.
A Sanders supporter connected the dots. The Times quotes Jonathan Tasini saying, “The Clinton people would always argue “Well, there’s no connection between the money and the actions that we take,” but acknowledges that the schmoozing under way in Philly is “about access and whose phone calls get answered.”
The Sanders folks are wary, for good reason. The release of the DNC emails confirmed that their campaign was treated unfairly; they won’t forget that any time soon. The raucous outbreaks from disappointed Sanders supporters continued sporadically into the third night, even as many had already gone home. Leon Panetta was interrupted during his remarks by shouts of “No More Wars,” Michael Bloomberg was greeted with chants of “One Percent” and VP pick Tim Kaine got a smattering of shouts about his backing of the TPP trade pact.
The Sanders people will watch Hillary like hawks in coming months, ready to pounce if she veers towards the middle and repudiates some of her new-found progressivism. She has already disappointed some by selecting Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate, instead of a more liberal candidate such as Elizabeth Warren or Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.
The Sanders camp was surely incensed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s hint that Hillary might change course on opposing the TPP. McAuliffe said in an interview with Politico, “I worry that if we don’t do TPP, at some point China’s going to break the rules -- but Hillary understands this. Yes. Listen, she was in support of it. There were specific things in it she wants fixed.” Recognizing the incendiary nature of this suggestion, McAuliffe has since walked back his remarks.
Donor Alan Patricof sounded an equally troubling note for the Sanders camp not long ago on CNBC, when he assured viewers, “The business community has nothing to fear from Hillary Clinton.” While that may suggest a reasonable pragmatism to some, such assurances could temper the enthusiasm of those looking to hobble the influence of corporate America.
Hillary needs to excite Democrats and to get them to vote. Clearly the campaign is concerned about her “enthusiasm gap.” Nearly every speaker, including President Obama, has exhorted the Sanders folks to overcome their differences and turn out in November. There is a certain frantic aspect to these pleas, which reflect the tightening polls. While for most of the past year the media and other Democrats have treated the Trump campaign as a joke, it is slowly dawning on some that this could be a tight race. Just as the “pro-stay” group in the UK were shocked that voters ignored the warnings of the establishment and voted for Brexit, US elites are spooked that voters, against all their warnings of calamity to come, could elect Trump.
Nothing proves the point better than a recent New York Times assessment that we could see an electoral college tie in November, or even a win by Trump. That’s a far cry from the prediction made in March by forecaster Larry Sabato who gave Hillary 347 electoral college votes to Trump’s 191. The Times piece notes that the Clinton campaign is suddenly spending heavily on advertisements in Pennsylvania, a state that last went Republican in 1988 – and previously a state thought safe for Democrats. Other states with large numbers of white voters without a college degree – like Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and New Hampshire – are also now seen as possibly leaning towards Trump.
Hillary will assuredly get a bounce coming out of this star-studded convention; it may carry her back into the lead. That lead could persist through the next month or so, as Americans welcome the diversion of the Olympics. Come September, the polls will be taken more seriously and the debates will loom. It’s safe to say that no one has a clue as to the outcome of this unpredictable race. But, it’s also fair to say that the Sanders camp could well decide who becomes our next president.