Road to the Oval Office: Live at the DNC – Day Four/July 28

Live from Philadelphia, Mark Alderman, Blake Rutherford and Howard Schweitzer recap President Obama's speech and discuss Hillary Clinton's speech on the last evening of the DNC (July 28).

Mark: Day 4 of the Democratic National Convention, for those of us who were in Cleveland, Howard, this would be day 8, which is maybe 8 too many, but it's certainly a few too many, so it is Howard Schweitzer, Blake Rutherford and Mark Alderman impersonating Blake Rutherford as moderator. So, I'm going to ask a question of you, Blake, which you are usually doing of us. Last night, you were there, I was there, Howard was there - that was of the 7 nights of convention so far in the last 2 weeks, that, I think, was a highlight.

Blake: Yeah, I think that's exactly right, Mark. The expectations for Barack Obama as we've seen going all the way back to 2004, were always high and yet he always seems to meet them. I think last night was an exceptional moment for Hillary Clinton. I think as much of Barack Obama's ability to make the case for her candidacy, which I thought he did incredibly well, but then I think the symbolism - her walking out after the speech - the hall was moved and enthused by the speech, but when she came out, they were together, the embrace, that moment of just coming together... They both seemed happy to be there. He seemed happy to be there, and she seemed very happy, for what happened in the 45 minutes before, she walked on the stage as I think she should have.

Mark: She was obviously happy to be there as the nominee, and an historic nominee. I think she's also happy to see her boss there. It's good to see the president.

Blake: Yeah, I think no doubt a highlight. For Hillary Clinton it needed to be a highlight though, it really did.

Mark: So Howard, you were there a week ago, Wednesday.

Howard: Yeah.

Mark: You were there last night.

Howard: I mean, no comparison. It's not even a discussion, it's not even a discussion. There was not a single moment, and I was there for the entirety of Trump's speech, through Trump's speech, not a single moment where the electricity in Cleveland came even remotely close to what it did last night. [crosstalk 00:02:43] Several times last night. Many, many, many times.

On the other hand, as Mark, you like to say, Hillary Clinton wasn't speaking last night, and she's running for president. And it was a great night, I think Blake you said it was a great night for Hillary Clinton - I think it was a great night for the Democratic party. I think it remains to be seen, I think tonight is Hillary's night, I guess is what I'm trying to say. And she's very high-bar, and she's got to be herself, because that's the only way to do this. She's not going to be Bill Clinton, she's not going to be Barack Obama.

Blake: And Mark, I mean, she doesn't really have to be, right, I mean I think she's got to find her voice, find her rhythm, as Chris Matthews, who was with us on Tuesday said, look, practice makes perfect here. Delivery matters, and the way in which she communicates her message - she's not a naturally gifted public speaker. Howard, you said that many times.

Mark: She's going to give a professional speech, a competent speech, a qualified speech. She is not, as a speaker, her husband or the vice president or the president or the first lady, so if she delivers the fifth best speech of the convention, that will be pretty good work for her. But, that's on the technique, and that is on the art of the speech. I think that the opportunity that she has, as Howard does correctly say of course, she has to now seize this opportunity.

The opportunity that she has is to present the country with a choice, not only between herself and Donald Trump, everybody always knew that was the choice once they each got to the nomination, but between 2 different visions of this country. What we heard last night culminating in just a soaring speech from the president was a vision of an America that is inclusive, a vision of an America that is just, but most especially a vision of an America that is optimistic. And if she can strike that Reaganesque note as the president did last night, I think she'll succeed.

Howard: There were a number of parts of the president's speech that I had heard before. I heard it in his initial campaign appearance with Hillary. So, I think they're on message, they're disciplined, that's not a criticism, that's a compliment. And that's what's going to win her this election, is that discipline.

Mark: But what was very interesting again, now we're talking about the president, not the secretary, but I again say she needs to build on that foundation that he and the other speakers laid. The president stood up there and said to Republicans, establishment Republicans, one of whom is sitting in this room, I didn't hear much about the Republican party in Cleveland, that certainly wasn't a conservative convention, he stood up there and praised Bernie Sanders. He gave the Bernie shout-out that Bill did and that Hillary will, but coming from him, nobody was going to boo him, so coming from him it worked. I think that it's that word again, inclusive. I think if her speech is inclusive, if her speech includes disaffected Republicans, if her speech includes the disappointed Sanders supporters, if it includes not only the mothers of black men killed by police but the mothers of police killed by lunatic murderers in recent weeks and months, an inclusive speech about an optimistic America is what she needs tonight.

Howard: As a United States senator, who I rode the elevator with and chatted with last night said to me, Tim was in a tough spot. Nobody's talking about Tim Kaine today. Sandwiched in between Joe Biden and Barack Obama, and Michael Bloomberg, who was Michael Bloomberg, a guy I wish would run for president, but he didn't, because he couldn't win.

Mark: We have to dust-off our op-ed, by the way.

Howard: Right, Michael Bloomberg for Chief Operating Officer.

Mark: It's a good idea then, it's still a good idea.

Howard: Kaine was in a tough spot. He did fine, it was pretty funny I thought when he mocked Trump, when he imitated Trump. I think it was just incredible, being in that hall last night.

Mark: I know Tim Kaine, I like Tim Kaine, I trust Tim Kaine, I admire Tim Kaine, I might have picked someone else for different reasons, but it is a pick that is solid and sound, but not only was he in a tough spot, it's unclear to me what his role is. Bill Clinton's role is to be Nancy Reagan. And Barack Obama's role is to be the validator in chief here, and to explain what he did and how he did it with her and how Trump couldn't do it. Bloomberg's role is to say, "I know a little bit about business, you've got to be kidding me if you're talking about Trump as a businessman." I'm not sure what Tim's supposed to do.

Howard: Appear to be qualified. [crosstalk 00:09:18] Take some shots.

Blake: I mean that's what I was going to say. He's not a natural attack dog, it doesn't seem natural to him. Not unnatural in the way that it was for Joe Lieberman who was just wholly ineffective in that regard, but it sure seems to me that the narrative that's being pushed about Kaine is he's competent and he's trustworthy. [crosstalk 00:09:45] Republicans have said that. There's...

Mark: By the way, though I couldn't possibly disagree more with most of what he thinks, so is Mike Pence.

Blake: Right, so...

Mark: That's why I say, I guess they take each other out.

Howard: And this is all great, it's been an electric week here in Philadelphia, again Mark, I'm not going to defend Cleveland - huge, huge contrast - but to bring you guys back to reality, this is still what I'm calling the "hold-your-nose" election. This is still 2 candidates who are widely disliked and distrusted. At the end of the day, they've got to win the "hold-your-nose" vote. Nobody's really excited about... the general population is not excited about either one of these people. They don't like them. And whoever wins the "hold-your-nose" vote is going to win this election.

Mark: That's one way of characterizing...

Howard: Let's not make the mistake of thinking that a week in Philadelphia solves Hillary Clinton's likability issue, or even comes close.

Mark: Trump went into Cleveland a little bit behind, he came out of Cleveland a little bit ahead. Hillary came into Philadelphia a little bit behind, she's going to come out of Philadelphia a little bit ahead. It's a margin-of-error election. "Hold your nose" is one way of articulating it's a margin-of-error election, and it is going to be for 100-days a see-saw, I don't think either of them is going to open a lead that never closes. I do think that if either does, it'll be her, but I don't think she will.

Blake: I think in some ways, though, Howard, because certainly conventions exist in a moment of time and then things happen, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine around going to get on a bus, they're going to travel through Pennsylvania and Ohio, and 48 hours after we [gavel or gabble? 00:12:06] out tonight we'll be talking about something else, right? It'll be onto something else. But I think the interesting thing about Philadelphia is, and what I think this convention from an orchestration perspective has shown, is that it allowed the Democrats to get organized. They got their speakers organized, we have a sense of who the vital surrogates are going to be, they got them lined up, they sort-of positioned them on their issues, right, and I think...

Mark: Got Bernie mostly there [crosstalk 00:12:30]

Blake: And you know, Bernie mostly there..

Mark: Most of his people mostly there...

Blake: Yeah, most of his people mostly there, but you kind-of have a sense of "Okay, I know now what the Democrats are going to put on the field in the fall." And so I think in some ways, after the bump or whatever takes place it'll re-calibrate, we'll be onto something else, and we will have forgotten about all the fun we've had in Philadelphia. But I think the Democrats have set the stage for themselves in a way that the Republicans just didn't do.

Howard: I agree.

Mark: And part of the setting of the stage and the defining of the roles, which is why I asked, because I'm not sure what Kaine's role really is, I think a sleeper achievement last night, at least I haven't heard people talking about it, was Joe Biden, and Joe Biden talking to angry white men. Hillary Clinton can't talk to angry white men like that, Barack Obama certainly can't, Michael Bloomberg - nobody can talk to angry - nobody can stand up there and say, "Malarkey," and have everybody agree, understand it, agree and feel good that the guy said it. He is a sleeper weapon here, and I think you're going to see him in the Scrantons of the country, talking to the people that Donald Trump has thus-far claimed as his own. He is polling, Trump is, at unprecedented numbers among white men. Numbers never seen before. If anybody can peel that back a little, it's Joe Biden.

Howard: Meanwhile, it's a lot of scary stuff happening in the world, in the country. And it's been nice to, knock-on-wood, we're almost through Philadelphia, Cleveland was incredibly secure, I think both very different conventions, kind-of logistically. Mark, would you agree with that?

Mark: Yeah.

Howard: But great job by both cities, but there's a lot of bad stuff that's been happening in the world. The Pope yesterday came out and said the world is at war, talking about all the terrorism that's been going on. Cleveland was doom and gloom, and as I've said before on this podcast, I'm not on the Trump train by any means, but it's a little gloomy out there right now too, and so it remains to be seen whether he's the one that's capturing the mood in terms of what's really going on.

Blake: Well there's certainly a mood, right? I mean, there's no Trump without that mood. Whether it's a 42% mood or a 51% mood I think is what we'll know in the months ahead. But I think at the same time, it's palatable. I mean you have so much going on in the country and fear is real, even if that fear is not an economic insecurity fear, if it is a public safety fear. Whether that's personal or national.

Mark: Yeah we've all here said, "Well he's never going to recover from that thing he just said," and every single time we were wrong, and we should know better than to say what I'm about to say again, but what he said about Russia was extraordinary. In so many respects, one of which, just as a political matter, forget for a moment the national security, the mention, the very base to which he is so successfully appealing has spent decades fearing Russia. And it remains to be seen whether anything this man says can actually penetrate his base and turn anybody around. When this doesn't do it either I think that will pretty much seal the question. But it is extraordinary to be telling those men and women, more men than women, far more white than men and women of color, who among the other things they are aggrieved about, is their belief that the country has slipped in the world and Russia is one of the reasons for that. It's just extraordinary to be telling those people that Russia is going to take care of Hillary for them.

Howard: I think you're, no offense, completely missing something here. He's trying to control the news cycle. Why is this any different than anything else he did at any point during the primaries. Yesterday was the Democrat's day, and he was trying to get the media to talk about Trump. That's what he was doing.

Mark: I agree with that. What I am saying is, in getting the media to talk about him instead of the other guy, is there anything he could say that his base would resent, or does it just not matter?

Blake: I don't think it matters, Mark. I don't think it matters.

Howard: I don't think it matters either.

Blake: I mean, I think when, rhetorically or not, to capture the new cycle or not, when you invite a foreign country to engage in the kind of act that Trump encouraged Russia to engage in, and that doesn't do it? Nothing's going to do it. I mean, it's just, if the roles were reversed, if Hillary Clinton had suggested that, if Bernie Sanders suggested that, for that matter, if Marco Rubio suggested that, it would have been ball-game. But it's just not for Trump. I certainly can't explain why, but I just know that to be right.

Howard: By the way, if you held a popularity contest between Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin among those people, I'm not sure she would win.

Mark: May not, may not.

Howard: But can I tell you something that I thought was more significant in the context of this thing? Pence didn't agree with him.

Mark: That's why I gave Pence a shout-out a minute ago. Mike Pence, I do not agree with much of what the man thinks or believes, but he is at least genuinely conservative and he doesn't agree with Donald Trump on a lot of things including yesterday. Paul Ryan, a profile in cowardice on the other hand, wouldn't even disagree with Trump. He said Putin's a thug, that's not news, but the abdication of the Republican establishment, Howard, other than you, who has sat here and said you're not with him, is kind of startling, but I do want to say this: here's something I agree with Donald Trump on, okay. He could stand on 5th avenue and shoot somebody and not lose a single vote from his base. He said that months ago because he gets this, he understands it. At manipulating his people, the man is an evil genius.

Howard: And who are we talking about right now.

Blake: Well, I mean, I think.

Mark: Yeah, well I brought him up. For a reason!

Mark: Well it's an equal tie. Isn't this an FCC type thing. I don't want Blake to lose his license.

Blake: Yeah that's exactly right, that's exactly right. I mean, Howard, but I think to the point about talking about Trump, one of the great questions of this election, we talked a little bit about it at various points of our lunch series. Mark, you and Chris Matthews certainly touched in on this, how much of what Trump is doing is just reinforcing a feeling among people who are already there, and how much of what he is doing is appealing to that margin-of-error class that's going to make up, perhaps, the difference in this election. And I think what I can't seem to sort out - I know it's early and we've got to get through these conventions and sort of let this thing settle and get to the one-on-one, something Mack talked about in our lunch today - but what I can't put my finger on yet is when that settling takes place, where really is the electorate after the first debate, that's what I was going to say.

Mark: After the first debate, this thing is going to get really hard to reverse. If anything happens there, if they first debate's a push, then it'll be the second debate. Second debate's a push, it'll be the third debate. If that's a push it'll be November 8th. But those debates are where I think we will see, if we are to see it at all, the separation. And boy, you'd sure think she could do all right there, but you'd think a lot of things that haven't been true this cycle.

Blake: Their debates are, I mean, look, you guys have been there, you've seen these things come together. First of all, it's ready [inaudible 00:22:38] live TV, there are moments, and if you know how to pick your moment, then you can define the debate in 10 words or less. Trump, who is really short on substance, is not short on style.

Mark: And the paradox of debates is you would every time rather debate a prepared opponent than an unprepared opponent. Because you can prepare for a prepared opponent. By definition, you can't otherwise.

Blake: It's the sports analogy, right? I mean you tend to play down to your competition, right? You always want to play someone better than you because the likelihood that you may get whipped, but statistically the probability is you will play up. You may not win, but you will play up. But if you're the heavy favorite, you tend to play down, you tend to under-perform, it's what we saw in 2004, right? I mean, George W. Bush did a phenomenal job of basically selling himself as an incompetent. And then he shows up at the debates, and he's not that, and he wins.

Howard: She's going to do some of that, I think, but he's not going to prepare. He's going to be the unpredictable guy. He's not targeting voters, he's not micro-targeting, he's not sophisticated, and he's not running a sophisticated enough operation to try to message to the -

Blake: He has Twitter

Howard: And so he's going to continue to do what he's done, and either going to win or lose based on being Trump.

Mark: Well, one more day, and then to be continued. So, I'm going to return to my moderator role and thank Howard and thank Blake and thank our support team, thank all of you for listening, and this will resume soon.


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