Tom Fina's Letter from Washington - July 31, 2016

To Democrats Abroad
31 July 2016
Tom Fina                                          
Executive Director Emeritus

At the close of the Republican convention last week, Timothy Egan, the long serving NYT journalist, ended his wrap-up thus: “And we should fear - for the republic, for a democracy facing its gravest peril since the Civil War.”

Donald Trump’s invitation to Putin to shift his cyber hacking to Hillary Clinton’s
e-mail is confirmation of Egan’s fear. As the US considers how to respond to the Russian meddling in our national election, it has limited options. It has to weigh the need for Russian cooperation to end the war in Syria, for example,  against trying to punish the hackers at a moment when a planned or unplanned misstep by either side could risk a military confrontation.

With Clinton’s acceptance of the Presidential nomination at the close of the Democratic convention Thursday night, the election campaign is now launched.  One hundred days of unprecedented and unpredictable campaigning separates us from election day. The psychotic Donald Trump will make it the most sordid campaign in memory because of his unbridled crudity and lack of self control.

The conventions were in stark contrast. Trump, the ruthless outsider, captured the Republican organization by crushing its main-line candidates and leadership. Clinton was carried to nomination by the Democratic establishment over the powerful competition of Senator Sanders. In the end, Clinton and Sanders played by the rules and compromised. He united the party by moving that she be nominated by acclaim. Trump trampled the rules of the Republican convention and denounced his opponent.

While the Democratic convention opened with the threat of chaos because of the anger of the Sanders’ delegates, it moved steadily to unity when Senator Sanders put all of his support behind Clinton, as she had rallied to Obama when she lost to him in 2008. That, too, was in sharp contrast to Trump’s last standing competitor, Ted Cruz, who stood before the Republican convention and refused to support him. Clinton’s selection of VA’s Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate creates a team that seems as close knit as Obama and Biden. Kaine is an experienced, likeable, tough Spanish speaking Catholic and will help carry VA.

Democrats left Philly as overwhelmingly united as Republicans left Cleveland divided. The convention itself was the best orchestrated by either party in the memory of long-time pundits and its steady focus on the danger to our security and democracy posed by Trump was the launching pad for the next hundred days. By all accounts, the over-arching Democratic theme will be that an uninformed, authoritarian Trump would threaten our security and our democracy. As the last balloons and confetti fell in Philadelphia, the Clinton campaign began its pivot to the ground campaign with a three-day bus tour through the wavering white, working class Rust Belt of PA and OH. The Trump organization believes that he must win electoral college votes of these two states and Florida to win. They are critical to both candidates.

While there were more total TV viewers of the Democratic convention than of the Republican, Trump’s ratings got a bounce from his and Clinton had fallen from an average 6.8 point lead at the end of June to a 0.9 point Trump lead by July 28, the last day of the Democratic convention. Now, in the very first presidential polls after the conventions, two give Clinton a 5 point lead. A third, by a new bipartisan organization polling on July 29, gives Clinton a 15 point lead among all voters with a 7 point lead among men and a 22 point lead among women.

Americans abroad, like both our foreign friends and enemies, who look at TV, read the press, follow the social media or read diplomatic reporting, now know what kind of an America Trump or Clinton would lead. Your observer on the Potomac can tell you little about that choice that you do not already know. But, some of the vital nitty gritty may be less reported abroad.

Clinton has out raised Trump ($386 million to $94 million), outspent him in advertising ($57 million to $3.6 million), and has a 50 state grass roots organization with top of the line voter technology in place and he has none. Still, Real Clear Politics, the polling aggregator, gives Clinton/Kaine 202 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win, with 182 a toss-up and Trump/Pence with 154. The Clinton campaign and its PAC supporters are about to unleash a flood of advertising in swing states. We Democrats will be biting our nails awaiting signs that traditional campaigning will work in this climate of anger-driven voters alarmed at the seismic changes in our society taking place around them.

The terrorist attacks in Belgium, France, Germany and massacres here in Orlando, as well as the police killings of black men in MN and LA followed by the revenge killing of 5 officers in Dallas and others since, feed public demand, especially among older, less educated white men, for change, for law and order.  That gives Trump’s warnings that we are 5 minutes to mid-night from which we can be saved only by his imposition of law and order, an appeal that no one can yet measure with confidence. But, it is a profound worry. 

After the full data is in about the effect of the Democratic convention on voter support and the results of the ground campaigning, the next (scheduled ) headline event will be the first presidential candidate debate on September 26. It is to be followed by a second on October 9 and the third on October 19 with one vice presidential debate on October 4. Trump has already complained that the timing has been rigged against him (although the schedule was announced in September 2015) and there is speculation that he may refuse to participate in one or more of them.

Fasten your seat belt for the next 100 days!