One after another, they have streamed across the stage of the Democratic National Convention, sharing their stories of being insulted, cheated or otherwise wronged by Donald Trump.
The widow of an Army sergeant, who said she used $35,000 of her military death benefits to pay for a worthless degree from Trump University. A woman with cerebral palsy who condemned Trump as someone “with hate in his heart.”
And a Mexican-American actress, Eva Longoria, who was indignant in defending her heritage. “My father isn’t a criminal or a rapist,” she said. “In fact, he’s a veteran.”
Hillary Clinton’s convention has been full of soaring tributes to her character and compassion. But perhaps the most important message she and her campaign are trying to deliver this week is a scorching indictment of her Republican opponent as someone who has spared almost no group from insult or injury, be they veterans’ widows, American Indians, immigrants, Muslims, the disabled or women.
Given Clinton’s own weaknesses with many white voters — especially men and those without college degrees — and a trust deficit she must overcome with a majority of Americans, this is what Democratic coalition building looks like in the era of Trump.
If his support base is voters unsettled by changes that have reshaped the country, a key part of Clinton’s is those unsettled by Trump.
The hope, as shown here in Philadelphia in video testimonials, character witnesses and footage of Trump’s own words, is to sow doubts not only about his character, but also about whether he genuinely cares about the working-class people to whom he has so much appeal.
“You just saw what happened to me,” the military widow, Cheryl Lankford, said in prime time Monday night, “how Trump University cheated me out of the money I received after my husband’s death.”
The Democratic Party, which painted the 2012 Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, as indifferent to the concerns of ordinary Americans, is now trying to do the same with Trump. “One of the central questions in the election will be, ‘Who do voters trust more to be on their side?’” said Geoff Garin, a pollster and strategist for the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA Action. “And one of the things that’s being developed in the convention is Trump’s long history of cheating people to enrich himself.”
Whit Ayres, a top Republican pollster, noted the similarities to the Romney strategy. “They did it four years ago, but our nominee hadn’t set the table for them quite as perfectly,” he said.
If Clinton can broaden her base to include working-class whites in particular, it could provide an insurance policy against low turnout among minority groups. But recent polling shows just how much work she has to do.
The latest New York Times/CBS News poll this month showed that Trump beats her 53 to 28 percent among white voters who do not have a bachelor’s degree. Among white voters with a bachelor’s degree or higher, she leads, 47 percent to 37 percent.
“His strength is concentrated almost exclusively with non-college-educated whites,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. “And when you put together college-educated whites with minority communities and the other groups that Donald Trump has assaulted and insulted, it’s a pretty big majority of the country.”
To many of Clinton’s supporters, she is only doing what she has to do.
“Good politics takes into account every single way you can get people out to vote,” said Robert Kellogg, a delegate from Gastonia, North Carolina. “We can’t take what Trump says for granted.”
Ayres, the Republican pollster, said that he was doubtful Clinton could improve her appeal much with blue-collar whites, likening it to “trying to sell Trump to Latinos.” But he added, “It just looks like Democrats are trying to outvote them.”
Data from the primaries in key battleground states show that Trump has not expanded the Republican coalition to the point where he could make up the votes he is expected to lose elsewhere.
Optimus, an analytics firm that works for Republican campaigns, examined all the voters who cast ballots in primaries in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and Ohio — places Romney lost in 2012 but that Trump has said he can win by bringing new voters into the mix. Optimus found that with the exception of Florida, the number of new voters in the primaries would not have been enough to help Romney beat President Barack Obama, which does not bode well for Trump’s chances in those states this year.
The bottom line, said Scott Tranter, a partner with Optimus, is that Trump will not win these states if he does not draw independents and Democrats as well.
“Trump is not going to win the Romney way,” Tranter said “He’s only going to win the Trump way. And that’s by taking more swing voters than anyone thought was possible.”
And the more people Trump offends — or who become offended by him because of efforts by Clinton and her allies to highlight his flaws — the harder it becomes for Trump to make up the votes he is losing in important demographic groups.
He is behind with white women, for instance, compared with how other recent Republican nominees have performed. The latest Times/CBS poll showed that he was tied with Clinton among white female voters, a group Romney won 56 percent to Obama’s 42 percent.
One of the recurring themes at the convention in Philadelphia has been Trump’s at times degrading treatment of women, including a video montage of him explaining how “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing” and telling a female reporter, “You wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful.”
The last time a Democratic presidential candidate beat a Republican with white female voters was 1996, when Bill Clinton won his second term.
At the end of his speech on Tuesday night, Bill Clinton made a point of reaching out to Muslims who “love America and freedom,” and urged immigrants to side with Hillary Clinton’s policies “over someone who wants to send you back.”
Credit: Las Vegas Sun