Two Views on What the Democrats Are Ignoring
Bloomberg View columnists Ramesh Ponnuru and Francis Wilkinson discuss the events so far at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Ponnuru: I have never considered myself to be a particularly moderate guy, Frank, but after 1.5 conventions I am beginning to pine for a little more moderation.
At last week’s Republican convention, ISIS was around every corner; in Philadelphia so far, it has barely been mentioned. In Cleveland, immigration was a threat to American wages and security; Donald Trump talked a lot about immigrants without ever suggesting that some of them make a positive contribution to our country (except by implication, since he praised his wife). In Philadelphia, illegal immigrants, a mother and daughter, were invited on stage to explain how they felt about the prospect of deportation.
Nobody said anything about reaching a place where we can enforce the laws humanely. I get that the parties are more polarized on immigration than they once were, but am I the last American voter who thinks we should do justice to both sets of concerns?
The parties were not dead set against each other on trade, which led to the spectacle of AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka denouncing Trump before taking the same position as the Republican nominee on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (and the opposite position from the one Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine took before he was picked).
I think that people who are basically for free trade, including Hillary Clinton, are being too defensive: that Americans are open to a case emphasizing the gains we have made, and can keep making, from trade. So far nobody with a speaking slot agrees.
Clinton and the other speakers can stop trying to placate supporters of Bernie Sanders. Many of those supporters are realists, and will back Clinton in November; the ones who are not can’t be won over. Clinton would be better off spending the final two days trying to reach those voters who like neither her nor Trump, but can be made to fear the consequences of a Trump presidency. Some of these voters backed Sanders, but most did not.
Which raises the question of whether enough fear is coursing through the Democrats. The polls have Trump tied or ahead, but I don’t get the sense that Democrats have internalized that fact. Do you think they really understand they could lose this election?
Wilkinson: Democrats would have little trouble fearing a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio as the Republican nominee. In fact, they would probably assume defeat against either candidate. But you are on to something, Ramesh, and I think it extends beyond Democrats.
People who follow politics -- and most of the Democrats filling seats in that arena do -- have a difficult time imagining Trump winning for the simple reason that he is stone cold ignorant about the demands of the job. What's more, his ramshackle campaign operation, its serial falsehoods and his own professional history of bamboozlement undermine him in the eyes of people who pay attention to political details.
Trouble is, this is a very small number of people.
Trump is such an alarming departure from the norm -- the norm of basic fitness and competence for the job, above all -- that it's very hard for the Democrats in that hall to think their fellow citizens will make him president. Polls, of course, say otherwise -- at least at the moment, when Trump is running slightly ahead of Clinton.
I've been surprised that the convention has featured politicians, such as Elizabeth Warren, blasting Trump, but very few of the ordinary business people stiffed by Trump. Perhaps it wouldn't matter that much. The parties seem to exist in different fact universes. But if Clinton doesn't emerge from this convention with a sizable lead and slightly better ratings on her trustworthiness, you may see the panic that's currently missing.
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