Bill Clinton Bedazzles Our Political Pros
Two of America's smartest political strategists are analyzing the Democratic National Convention this week for Bloomberg View, giving their perspectives on how the proceedings are coming across to millions of viewers and voters. They are Vin Weber, a Republican lobbyist, consultant and former Minnesota congressman who has advised presidential contenders Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney and, this year, Jeb Bush; and John Sasso, a longtime Democratic adviser who was the leading strategist for the presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004.
Bill Clinton dazzled both of our strategists with a remarkably personal speech Tuesday night about falling in love with Hillary Clinton four-and-a-half decades ago, and the virtues she has displayed since.
The former president was the highlight of the second day of the Democratic National Convention, even on a day when the Democrats became the first major political party to nominate a woman for president.
"It was just magnificent," said Weber, a Republican. "He has a way of making you forget it's a political speech and just enjoy listening to him."
By focusing on the early years of courtship and marriage, and then describing Hillary Clinton's career and contributions, especially for children, Bill Clinton artfully sidestepped the tensions between Clinton supporters and die-hard fans of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. "He made it very human and positive," Weber said.
Both he and Sasso, a Democrat, remarked that the former president barely talked about himself or his record, focusing almost entirely on his wife.
"Just when you think he can't top himself, he does it," Sasso said. "He's such a great storyteller."
The Democratic politico said Bill Clinton effectively conveyed his wife's "tenacity, determination, relentlessness and commitment."
And by not focusing on his own accomplishments, Sasso said, he gave her the ability to distance herself from his record when politically necessary, for example on issues like trade, to "draw on her own change."
"He solidified her profile of strength, conviction and caring," Sasso concluded.
This capped off a generally good second day for the Democrats. Once Clinton won the roll call vote for the nomination, Sanders moved to make her selection unanimous by acclamation. Earlier, at a Bloomberg Politics breakfast, he left little doubt of his commitment to campaign for Clinton. A few dissenting Sanders delegates walked out of the hall Tuesday night, but they were in a small minority.
This was facilitated by the good will generated by Monday's opening night, particularly Michelle Obama's speech targeting Donald Trump. Without mentioning his name, she delivered a deft critique of his exclusionary policies, framing, through a prism of her teenage daughters and other children, the ideals and dreams of an America moving forward. Even Trump who delights in lashing out at Democrats, didn't return fire.
Although Bill Clinton dominated Tuesday's program, both political strategists, watching on television, felt other elements of the evening were effective too. Weber cited the speaker before President Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who "until now has done more for women in politics than anyone in America," as a strong choice to precede the Clintons on the convention stage.
Sasso also took note of speakers who praised Hillary Clinton for rallying to victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when she represented New York in the U.S. Senate. He said he thought a short speech praising Clinton by a former New York City police detective named Joe Sweeney "was perfect for her."
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