As the Democratic National Convention gets underway in Philadelphia, things are not going very well for Hillary Clinton, the party’s soon-to-be nominee.
Chaos broke out at a Florida delegation breakfast on Monday morning as DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz got loudly booed after leaked emails showed her role in opposing Bernie Sanders’ primary candidacy. And polls out Monday show Republican nominee Donald Trump surging to a lead over Clinton following the party’s convention in Cleveland. In FiveThirtyEight’s “Now Cast,” which predicts what would happen if the election were today, Trump’s odds are 57.5 percent of winning to 42.5 percent for Clinton.
Luckily for the former secretary of state, the election is not today.
Trump is clearly enjoying a bump in the polls after Cleveland, though his improvement began before the GOP convention, so it’s difficult to say how much his gains are directly attributable to his performance there. And Clinton and the Democrats now have their shot for four days to unify the party and take merciless aim at Trump’s personality and business record.
The effort begins Monday night with prime-time speeches by Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and first lady Michelle Obama. Sanders and Warren will be particularly important to try and help Democrats move past the Wasserman Schultz fiasco and convince ardent Sanders supporters of the urgency of rallying behind Clinton to stop Trump. In a sense, the GOP nominee’s rise in the polls could actually help in this task by dispelling the idea that Clinton is going to win in a walkover.
Warren has proved uniquely skilled at ripping Trump’s record of corporate bankruptcies and unpaid workers. She also seems to be able to get under Trump’s skin in ways many others can’t. Sanders, said by Democratic insiders to be somewhat mollified following Wasserman Schultz’s ouster and the adoption of a liberal platform, will likely give a strong endorsement of Clinton and exhort his supporters to get out and vote for the former secretary of state.
Clinton will also get prime-time addresses later in the week from a powerhouse list of prominent Democrats, including President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, and her popular and politically talented running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who will be key in helping whittle down Trump’s huge lead among white men.
All of these speakers will have one main task: discredit Trump and paint him as a wildly unprepared and risky choice for president of the United States. They will praise Clinton as well and talk about her agenda. But to reverse Clinton’s recent slide in the polls and prevent further Trump gains among undecided and independent voters, they have to prosecute the case that Trump is a shady and mean-spirited businessman with troubling ties to Russia who would undermine key international alliances and devastate the economy with his policies on trade and immigration.
The big moment comes Thursday night when Chelsea Clinton will introduce her mother for her nomination acceptance speech. In her address, Clinton will certainly echo some of the attacks on Trump made during the previous three nights. But her main task is to try and convince Americans who don’t like or trust her — and polls show there are a huge number of these people — that she is the only legitimate candidate and that she has a vision for taking the country forward.
Expect an address that contrasts Trump’s dark vision of an America under siege by violent illegal immigrants and potential terrorists with one of a nation that is in vastly better shape than in the aftermath of the financial crisis eight years ago. Clinton will also have to acknowledge the threats Americans face from both homegrown and international terrorism and the problems with an economy that continues to channel the bulk of income gains to the wealthiest while presenting plans to address all these concerns. And she will have to take some of her problems — including the email scandal and the Benghazi attacks — head on and explain to Americans why she can be trusted.
If she can do all this — and previous speakers succeed in disqualifying Trump — polls are likely to bounce back in her favor once Democrats pack up in Philadelphia and head back home for the three-month stretch run to the election.