PHILADELPHIA—Hillary Clinton’s campaign is hoping to use the Democratic National Convention to remedy a problem that’s plagued her campaign from the start—the lack of a crisp central message.
Clinton’s decades in public life give her lots to talk about when it comes to her resume, including her record, her accomplishments, and her qualifications for the White House. And of course, she and her fellow Democrats have heavily emphasized the need to defeat Donald Trump. But over the course of her campaign, the wonky former secretary of State has struggled to articulate a clear road map of what she would do as president, particularly one grounded in an easily digestible or memorable set of policy proposals.
While some see the breadth and depth of Clinton’s policy expertise as an asset, it’s also bogged down her campaign. Clinton’s team is hopeful that they can cement a sharper message about her candidacy this week for the millions of viewers who will tune in to watch the convention’s prime-time speeches. At a press briefing Monday morning at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said the week will show how “Secretary Clinton has spent her entire life fighting for kids and families, fighting to provide opportunity to those who are given the least, and breaking down barriers to opportunity.”
Through stories delivered by surrogates about Clinton’s efforts as first lady, senator from New York, and secretary of State, Mook said he hopes the convention “will crystalize for the voters the fights she’s taken on and the things she’s accomplished to help people.”
On Monday, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said Clinton’s message is: “That we’re stronger together when we build an inclusive economy that raises wages, and she’s got very specific plans to create jobs and raise wages and we’ll hear about that when she speaks Thursday night.”
Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List, parroted that tagline in a separate conversation later Monday. “Hillary Clinton, and now Tim Kaine, is about having an economy that is for everybody and not just the top, and we’re absolutely stronger together than the divisive and dangerous politics and policies of the Republican Party.”
Schriock added: “She’s going to do everything to fight for women and children to make sure people’s lives are better. That’s maybe not the funnest slogan, but it’s true to who she is and what she wants to do if she’s elected president of the United States.”
The relatively new Clinton tagline, “Stronger Together,” and the line about an economy that works for everyone, are sure to be repeated over and over this week in Philadelphia. Clinton cycled through a handful of slogans earlier in the campaign that didn’t stick. She focused on the “four fights” in her campaign launch in 2015, before she was “Fighting for us” and a “progressive who gets things done,” just to name a few.
Her campaign is now consistently using the slogan “Stronger Together,” which she adopted shortly before she locked up the Democratic nomination. The phrase simultaneously emphasizes the need for unity within a Democratic Party split between her and her primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well as in a country at-large wracked by racial, religious, and economic divisions that Trump has sought to exploit.
Running against Trump, whom Democrats cast as too unqualified and divisive to lead the country, has helped Clinton define her candidacy, or at least get away with focusing so heavily on her qualifications and broad themes rather than a clear message. Clinton’s willingness to draw on her professional and life experiences draws a contrast with Trump, who rarely offers personal anecdotes or explains how his worldview is derived from his own life experiences. Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention noticeably lacked any kind of personal narrative.
Nonetheless, Trump and Sanders benefited from having clear, if controversial, messages and proposals. Sanders wanted free public college and universal health care. Trump wants to build a wall on the Mexican border and limit Muslim immigration. Both men want to tear up trade deals.
Even now, not every Clinton backer seems to have gotten the memo about the new taglines. When asked to describe Clinton’s message in a sentence or two in Philadelphia, supporters offered different riffs on the same theme. “She wants to change America and not manage it. She wants to change the roles of the economy to work for working people, so that everybody gets a break and everybody can thrive,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.
“Her main message is fairness and equality. That’s what she’s about,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.
Clinton seems to be aware of frustration over her emphasis on policy details over simplicity or clarity. Her campaign website boasts of more than 30 individual policy goals—including raising the minimum wage, helping women- and minority-owned small businesses, guaranteeing equal pay for women, and making community college free— proposals that Clinton doesn’t hesitate to tick through when she’s on the stump.
At a rally in Virginia this month, Clinton said, “Every so often, someone will write or say, ‘There goes Hillary Clinton with her plans. She has a plan for everything.’ But I didn’t know you could run for president and say ‘I have a plan but I won’t tell you, but believe me it’s true. It’s huge. You’ll love it.”
“You owe it to people,” Clinton emphasized, “to tell them what you want to do.”
What We're Following See More »
"The Trump administration has ended Operation Choke Point, the anti-fraud initiative started under the Obama administration that many Republicans argued was used to target gun retailers and other businesses that Democrats found objectionable. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told GOP representatives in a Wednesday letter that the long-running program had ended, bringing a conclusion to a chapter in the Obama years that long provoked and angered conservatives who saw Choke Point as an extra-legal crackdown on politically disfavored groups."
"Liberal groups are raising questions about a speaking appearance Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch plans to make next month at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Gorsuch is scheduled to headline a luncheon celebrating the 50th anniversary of conservative group The Fund for American Studies on September 28, days before the next SCOTUS term begins October 2. Steve Slattery, a spokesman for The Fund for American Studies, said Gorsuch had nothing to do with venue choice, which was made long before the group asked Gorsuch to speak."
"The Trump administration has lost a handful of individuals serving in top cybersecurity roles across the federal government in recent weeks, even as it has struggled to fill high-ranking IT positions. The developments present hurdles for the new administration and speak to the longstanding challenge the federal government faces in competing with the private sector for top tech talent." Among those resigning is Richard Staropoli, "a former U.S. Secret Service agent who served as chief information officer (CIO) of the Department of Homeland Security for just three months," and Dave DeVries, the CIO at OPM. Separately, the White House announced today that President Trump has directed that United States Cyber Command be elevated to the status of a Unified Combatant Command focused on cyberspace operations.