Last year the so-called smart money in politics had it that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would win the Democratic nomination for president in a walk. But then she ran into Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist from Vermont, who captured the imagination of millennials and others dissatisfied with the status quo. He made her road to the convention much more complicated. Still, Clinton won the most delegates, and the Democrats’ race for the White House starts in earnest today at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
When Bill Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas in 1978, his wife already had an established career as an attorney. She even out-earned her husband. By the time Bill launched his campaign for president in 1991, she would explain, “I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies, and had teas, but what I decided was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.”
Her hard work paid off: leading conservatives such as Patrick J. Buchanan call her one of the greatest political athletes of modern politics. This week, the party that has given nominations to giants such as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy will choose the first woman as its standard bearer.
WHAT IT IS
The quadrennial conclave of 4,764 Democrats—a.k.a. delegates—who launch their candidate for the White House. They’ll be joined by some 50,000 others—Democratic Party supporters, liberals, progressives, operatives, the media, lobbyists, and hangers-on—at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. As legendary political reporter Theodore H. White once wrote, “Every convention is a universe in itself, with its own strange centers of gravity, its own fresh heroes and fools, its own new resolution of pressures and forces, its own irrecapturable mood of stage and place.”
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
Because it rallies the Democratic troops and kicks off the presidential campaign in full force.
THIS CONVENTION’S BIG IDEA
Stronger Together. When Clinton first announced for president, her theme was the “four fights” she would wage for America—“building a fairer economy, strengthening families, maintaining world leadership, and reforming government.” When she ran into Sanders’ insurgent campaign, she revised her slogan to “Fighting For Us.” In May, she finally seemed to settle on “Stronger Together, but sometimes that gets muddled with “I’m With Her,” another campaign slogan. Campaign officials argue that while her mottoes may have changed, her message is consistent: that she can deliver results.
WHY THIS COULD BE PROBLEMATIC
Because her opponent, Donald Trump, has used “Make America Great Again” since the beginning of his campaign without deviation. Most voters who are following the election know that’s his theme and what he proposes to do if elected. Also, “The best slogans are ones that are resonant and relevant to consumers—and being resonant and relevant requires being in tune with the cultural moment in a particular time and place,” said Jill Avery, a brand-management specialist, in an interview with the Boston Globe.
THE TWO ELEMENTS THAT MAKE CLINTON A UNIQUE NOMINEE
1. She’s the first woman to get a major party’s nomination.
2. She’s already lived in the White House as First Lady of the U.S. when her husband, Bill Clinton, was president from 1993-2001.
WHAT WILL BE ONE FOR THE AGES
When the first female in history accepts the nomination for president from a major political party. Bill Clinton developed into an exceptional campaign speaker and politician—“the natural,” as reporter Joe Klein labeled him. In fact, his speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in support of President Obama’s reelection was the best at that convention. The question for Thursday night is whether Hillary can surpass him and rise to the historic occasion to give a performance that shatters expectations. Best advice for her: Remember, the microphone works.
BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR
Astrid Silva, a Latino activist who came to the U.S. with her parents from Mexico in 1992. Still not a U.S. citizen, Silva will talk about what it’s like to live in fear of deportation and raids from the federal government. She says she’ll be a counterweight to the imagery presented by Trump at Republican National Convention.
WHAT’S HAPPENING OFF STAGE
Anger and turmoil in the Democratic-progressive activist ranks. Sanders’s supporters are still furious over what they regard as the “rigged” Democratic Party and biased media complex that stole the nomination from their man. (They blame the Associated Press for suppressing the Sanders vote in the massive California primary when its reporters announced the day before the vote that Clinton had secured the nomination.) The release of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee show that official party functionaries were plotting against Sanders reinforces their rage.
The Convention Players
To understand Hillary Clinton, watch Tracy Flick from Election (played by Reese Witherspoon). She grew up in the Midwest suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois, where she reportedly punched her first boyfriend in the nose because she’d put him in charge of looking after her rabbits and he let one escape. (Donald Trump punched his second-grade music teacher because Trump thought he didn’t know anything about music.) At Wellesley, she joined the Young Republicans and attended the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach in 1968. During her senior year she was elected president of student government. Before graduation, she broke from the GOP and embraced Eleanor Roosevelt. She then graduated from Yale Law School before becoming the First Lady of Arkansas and the U.S. senator from New York, and Secretary of State. Hillary’s mother told her she could grow up to be a Supreme Court Justice. Instead, here we are in Philadelphia.
HER FIRST POLITICAL HERO
The late Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a conservative-slash-libertarian who tried to unseat President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. “Hillary and I had a crush on Barry Goldwater not because we shared his sometimes wacko political ideas, but because he was finally what we’d been dreaming about for our America,” explained Joe Eszterhas in American Rhapsody. “A politician who was honest. A politician who dared to reveal his humanity in public.”
Until Saturday, most of the country had never heard of Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. But those who live in the Old Dominion State know him as Mayor of Richmond, Lieutenant Governor, Governor and now Senator, where he sits on the Committee on Foreign Relations). “Pragmatic Over Daring” is how the New York Times headlined the news of his selection. Until then, he was in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership globalist trade deal, which Sanders and his people are dead-set against. Now Kaine has changed his position, says that he agrees with Clinton and won’t support the trade deal in its present form. Running mates seldom have an impact on the election, and the probability is that will hold true on both sides this time. But the Kaine selection runs the risk of dampening enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket among voters who supported Sanders.
THE INNER CIRCLE
Huma Abedin started working for Hillary as an intern in 1996, and continued with her in the U.S. Senate and Department of State. Reporters refer to her as “Hillary’s shadow.” (She’s also the wife of the scandalized ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York.)
Bill Clinton is “the big dog is getting old and a little scruffy around the edges,” Time’s Joe Klein wrote earlier this year. “He doesn’t have the bite he once had.” Still, the former president is a master politico who will make a strong case for his spouse when he speaks on Tuesday night. Chelsea Clinton is the 36-year-old daughter of Bill and Hillary who grew up before our eyes in the 1990s and became a public force for her mother’s first run for the nomination in 2008. She once told a voter who asked her about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, “I do not think that is any of your business.” On Thursday night, Chelsea will introduce her mother to the delegates.
Mandy Grunwald has a special pass to the sanctorum of Clinton World because she’s been with the Clintons since Bill was trudging through the snows of the New Hampshire primaries in 1992. Loyal to the core, the entire Clinton campaign operation runs through her.
David Kendall has been there through every Clinton scandal: Troopergate, Whitewater, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, Bill’s impeachment, Hillary’s emails. For more than two decades, this Williams & Connolly partner has “waged legal warfare to keep the Clintons’ political careers on track,” wrote the New York Times.
THE WISE MEN
Sidney Blumenthal is a former writer for the Washington Post and New Yorker who became one of the Clintons’ most committed defenders, joined the White House staff and in 1998 testified to a grand jury investigating Bill’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky that the president was “ministering” to Lewinsky in a “spiritual fashion.” When Hillary was Secretary of State, he was advising her from his post at the Clinton Foundation.
John Podesta is the chairman of Hillary’s campaign who goes all the way back to Bill’s White House where he was in charge of managing Clinton’s scandals. (As was once said of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s protégé Bobby Baker, “He knows where the bodies are buried.”) In this campaign, Podesta’s authority is almost without peer. “He’s John Podesta—you just do what he says,” campaign manager Robby Mook told Time in January.
Chuck Schumer, the senior U.S. Senator from New York (and comedian Amy’s second cousin once removed), will be the Democratic leader on Capitol Hill next year. If Hillary gets elected, she’ll depend on him to get her policies through Congress so she can sign them into law.
Maggie Williams was chief of staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton in the White House where she was in charge of an almost-20-person staff known as “Hillaryland.” When White House counsel Vince Foster committed suicide in 1993, she removed files from his office and locked them in the Clintons’ private residence, which set off a major Washington scandal. Still, she remains one of Hillary’s most trusted aides.
THE RISING STAR
Elizabeth Warren is the senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts who gives it to Trump with the bark off. She’s scheduled to deliver the keynote address later tonight.
Joe Biden has dreamed of being president all his life and in May said, “I think I would have been the best president.” But he decided not to run in December because at the time he didn’t think he could win the nomination away from Hillary. “I regret it every day,” he told NBC earlier this year.
Al Gore served as Bill Clinton’s vice president for eight years and when he ran for president in 2000, won the popular vote. But he wasn’t invited to speak.
Bernie Sanders won 22 of 57 primary and caucus contests even though the Democratic Party establishment and the most powerful machine in politics (the Clintons) were against him every step of the way. And he clanks when he walks.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a congresswoman from Florida who was also chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee—until yesterday, when she resigned. The reason? Throughout the primaries and caucuses, the rap against her was that she’d stacked the deck against Sanders in favor of Hillary. The release of Democratic Party emails that were hacked seems to confirm this. When she tried to speak at a breakfast this morning in Philadelphia, she was booed and shouted down by Democratic protesters who were carrying signs that read, “WE DON’T WANT CHEATERS IN OUR PARTY ANYWAY” “NO!,” “DIVISION,” and “THANKS FOR THE ‘HELP’ DEBBIE.” Before the session started today, Schultz was defrocked and not allowed to gavel the convention into order.
THE LOVES THAT DARE NOT SPEAK THEIR NAMES
Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, Dolly Kyle Browning, Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey. When Bill Clinton first ran for president in 1992, he put private detectives on a mission to control the so-called “bimbo eruptions,” a special detail that continued in various incarnations after he was elected. They won’t be speaking in the Wells Fargo Center this week.