Democrats this week will try to reintroduce Hillary Clinton to the American people, humanizing her as a mother and grandmother with a demonstrated commitment to issues that affect ordinary Americans, a political scientist says.
“Let’s remember it wasn’t that long ago, she was a very admired person, and her negatives were nowhere near where they are now,” said Dr. Hal Bass, professor emeritus at Ouachita Baptist University.
Bass said Democrats, who have an advantage hosting their convention second, will seek to counter the image of Clinton as a “devil figure” portrayed by Republicans during last week’s Republican National Convention, including by recalling her years as this state’s first lady.
“To tell that story about Hillary, you’re going to have to talk about Arkansas, and you’re going to get some testimony from folks who were here when all this was going on,” he said of what might happen at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
One of the Democrats’ challenges is the fact that this is an outsider’s election, and Donald Trump is the outsider this year, Bass said.
Bass said the Republican National Convention started with “a lot of unforced error going on” – questions over the rules, the Melania Trump plagiarism flap, the Ted Cruz non-endorsement.
“I thought by the end the convention did in fact come together, and I think if Trump was looking for a united party at the end of the convention, he was substantially there,” Trump said.
Likewise, Bass expects Democrats to unite behind Clinton.
“In many respects fear is at this point the motivating force in this election,” he said. “On the Republican side, it’s fear of the other, fear of the outside. On the Democratic side, it’s fear of Trump.”
Bass said that unity will come despite the leak of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails over the weekend showing a bias toward Clinton and leading to the resignation of the DNC’s chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. Bass said the resulting protests by supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders reflect dissatisfaction with the party but won’t affect Clinton’s candidacy significantly.
As Bass was speaking by phone, protestors were marching in the streets of Philadelphia, which he said was not a sign of a fractured party.
“I think this is something the Democrats do,” he said. “I think the Democratic constituency is a younger constituency than the Republicans brought to Cleveland, and it’s certainly more prone to go to the streets, I guess. That’s just the nature of the Democratic coalition.”
Janine Parry, professor of political science at the University of Arkansas and director of the Arkansas Poll, expects the political convention to be similar to ones in the past, without a revolt. Sanders’ supporters are unhappy about the result of the primaries, but so were Hillary Clinton supporters eight years ago when she lost to President Obama.
“The Bernie-Hillary thing didn’t seem that much different to me than the Barack-Hillary thing. It’s just that we kind of forget sometimes,” she said.
Dr. Williams Yamkam, assistant professor of political science at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, also said he expects this convention to unfold traditionally.
“Everything that’s supposed to happen is likely going to happen,” he said.
Yamkam said the convention will mirror Clinton’s campaign slogan, “Stronger Together,” with an inclusive message, while at the same time trying to paint Trump as a divisive figure. He believes the Democrats are mostly unified, “but there are still some pockets of resistance,” especially in light of the leaked emails.
He said the anti-establishment Trump shored up his weakness with the party’s establishment by choosing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential candidate. Clinton, the ultimate establishment candidate, did not address her problem with the Sanders faction with her vice presidential choice, Virginia Sen. Time Kaine. To help create unity, Democrats will paint Trump as the “doom-and-gloom candidate,” he said.
Former President Bill Clinton is speaking Tuesday night. Parry said she expects him to be featured as a unifying figure attracting centrists who may have been turned off by some of the rhetoric at the Republican National Convention. Yamkam said the use of Clinton will be a balancing act in the campaign, given the need to establish Hillary Clinton as her own person and also because many liberals view him as too much of a moderate and as the president who signed NAFTA.
Polls on Monday were showing Trump leading Clinton. Bass called that a “typical convention bump” and said the race will settle into a more predictive pattern in about two weeks.