Democrats gather in Philadelphia starting Monday to nominate Hillary Clinton for president. After the GOP convention drew so much attention for demonizing her, Clinton and her party have an opportunity to reframe the race by articulating a positive message and vision for the nation.
When “the other candidate is even worse” is the best argument you have — and Republican nominee Donald Trump plus others on stage in Cleveland made that case often this past week — it raises questions about what a presidential campaign stands for.
Yet Clinton and other Democrats have danced on the precipice of similar rhetoric in recent weeks, too. Their convention is a chance to step back.
This year’s presidential election offers a shocking choice. Never before have the two major party candidates been so disliked — loathed, even. Both Clinton and Trump poll well south of 50 percent on favorability and have large net negative ratings.
If more than half of Americans don’t like you, it’s easier to try to drive down the popularity of your opponent than to make a case for yourself.
Clinton has been the target of conservative groups and politicians for years, but she certainly hasn’t helped her cause as recent events have shown.
Look no further than her extremely careless handling of emails while secretary of state and her evolving dodges to avoid blame.
Some Democratic Party insiders are finding convenient excuses not to show up in Philadelphia. Their absences are not as glaring as absences from the Republican convention, but it is notable that candidates in tight races who must appeal across ideological lines are giving it a miss.
They include Jason Kander, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri. His opponent, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, skipped the GOP convention in Cleveland, as did Kansas incumbent Sen. Jerry Moran.
With nearly four months until the election, honest, sincere campaigning could change how at least some people view Clinton. She and Democrats could present serious proposals to deal with the challenges confronting the United States. More than half of adults in a recent survey said they want to hear more about issues.
Every time they go negative, they turn off Americans who already are sick of this campaign and wish it would just go away.
For his part, Trump in his acceptance speech Thursday night outlined a number of reasons he hopes Americas will vote for him.
They included his promises to “restore safety” by fighting crime, to curtail immigration and to improve international trade deals to favor U.S. interests. Still, the lengthy speech was short on details and painted a bleak picture of current times in America.
That’s partly on purpose, of course, because Trump wants voters to embrace his unorthodox campaign and his belief that he is the best candidate to “make America great again.”
With the caveat that polling between candidates this long before the election is notoriously unreliable, polls show that the election is Clinton’s to lose. The head-to-head match-up might be close, but the state-by-state polling points to a commanding Electoral College lead for the Democrat.
A president who limps into office as only the slightly preferable of two deeply disliked candidates will have a hard time mustering support for his or her agenda in what is already a hyperpartisan environment.
If Clinton presents a sincere plan at the convention to move America forward, she can start to build that support. Fear of Trump is not a sufficient campaign platform.