Road to the Oval Office: Live at the DNC – Day Three/July 27

Live from Philadelphia, Mark Alderman, Blake Rutherford and Howard Schweitzer discuss Bernie Sanders' official endorsement and former President Clinton's speech from the previous evening. They also preview day three of the DNC (July 27).

Blake: All right, welcome to Road To The Oval Office. I'm Blake Rutherford, I'm here with Mark Alderman, the CEO of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies and Howard Schweitzer the Managing Partner of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies. We're back today. It's day 3 of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Mark, last night we saw I think 2 pretty spectacular moments. The first of which was that during the roll call -- and something you had predicted -- very consistent with what we saw in 2008, Bernie Sanders in a both, I think, magnanimous and politically very smart move for acclamation, a vote by acclamation in favor of Hillary Clinton, allowing both Vermont to put her over the top for him to achieve that political moment and for the convention to really come together. I really want to start there because that seemed to set the tone for the entire night. What's your reaction to that?

Mark: I agree. I agree, Blake. I think of the 2 big moments that was -- frankly, no disrespect to your friend the former president -- that was the more important politically. It was also the more emotional, interestingly. You and I were standing there, looking down on Senator Sanders doing that. Hard to overstate the significance of that. His speech on Monday night was very, very good, very very strong, almost sealed the deal, but doing that last night was the symbolic gesture that Hillary did for Barack Obama in 2008. In that room and in the club, I don't know what it looked like on television, but in the club that was a very big deal.

Blake: Howard, what do you think about that moment and how much significance should give to what Sanders did?

Howard: I didn't feel the emotion quite the way you guys did.

Mark: That's not surprising. You weren't there, you're a Republican.

Howard: Who cares? That's what I think. Who freaking cares?

Mark: A lot of people.

Howard: A lot of people that we know. Not the American people. Acclamation, blah blah blah, I mean come on. This is about getting elected president of the United States. Nobody outside that convention hall gives a hoot about how Bernie introduces her, what the form of endorsement ... This is nonsense.

Blake: The other thing I'd say, let me sort of come in to this.

Mark: Okay, you go first and then I ...

Blake: Right, I know you're going to have a response.

Mark: It's going to be a tag team on Howard.

Blake: One thing we've talked about ... Well no, I just want to ask you guys the question. We've talked about symbolic moments in campaigns. There have been a lot in this entire campaign on the Democrat and the Republican side. Conventions are as much about those moments as anything else and I totally respect the notion that there's an inside the hall strategy and an outside the hall strategy. It does seem to me, Howard, that that moment with Sanders, while Joe Public may or may not be paying attention, but the media's really paying attention, and you have to capitalize. There aren't that many moments in a convention and you capitalize on them. To me that felt like Michelle Obama's speech was one moment, right? That was the first moment that we had. Bernie Sanders seemed to be really the second moment, and I'd probably argue -- again, no disrespect to my friend president Clinton -- we've had 2 moments. This felt like the second moment but you didn't feel that.

Mark: Can I tell you why it mattered?

Howard: Go ahead.

Mark: Here's why it mattered. I'm with you, I agree with what Blake said. We all know ...

Blake: Mark you're not supposed to agree with me.

Mark: Well, I'm about to disagree with you very strongly.

Blake: Oh good.

Mark: We all know that most of America isn't paying attention to this and they aren't even listening to this podcast, if you can imagine that.

Blake: Not yet, not yet. It's coming.

Mark: Does a podcast go viral?

Blake: Yes.

Mark: I don't know how this thing works. Here's why, seriously, here's why it mattered. Bernie Sanders brought 2,000 delegates to this convention. They didn't know what they were going to do. They didn't know what he was going to do, they didn't know what they were going to do when they went home. Now, a hundred of them got up and walked out. 1,900 of them or more or the exact count, that moment sent them home to campaign for Hillary, and that's why it matters, because they are the activists where they live. They are the people who are now going to go back and make the phone calls and knock on the doors, and that's how this thing is going to get won if it does. That's why, much more I thought, than Bill Clinton's speech, that was what the convention's actually for.

Howard: I guess, maybe it's that we are now more than half way through our second week of conventions, I've grown tired ...

Blake: Howard's tired, that's what I was going to say. Howard's tired, he's jaded. He needs a vacation.

Mark: How cynical, at this point? When people say to me day 2 I say no day 6.

Howard: I think that it's so much more important what is going to happen in the debates down the road when it's mano a mano than any of this nonsense. I think conventions are -- in the world of 24/7 media -- I think these things have become antiquated as a show. The political pageantry of it doesn't matter like it once did. I just think it's very different.

Mark: I couldn't agree more and I'm not supposed to agree with you, but what I'm trying to tell you is that given that there was a convention in Philadelphia this week, that was a big deal at the convention. Being on day 7 now with you of this, I would cancel the 2020 conventions right now. Seriously.

Howard: Half the party's just the convention.

Mark: Just the conventions.

Blake: In thinking about, I want to pivot to Bill Clinton's speech last night.

Mark: Howard didn't like it.

Blake: Yeah, Howard didn't like it, we know that to be true. In the context, Mark, of what you saw in that speech, you and I had a conversation earlier in the day about what to expect from that speech and what that speech needed to achieve. Do you think it got there?

Mark: It got at least half way there. The first 25 minutes of that speech were risky and how it played across the country, if people were paying attention at all, I think is a little bit unclear. It was darn interesting to hear president Clinton open with the love of his life when the whole country knows that there have been issues in that marriage, but they are still married. They did get through it. That was the unspoken point and that part was tricky. The last 25 minutes, when he was talking about what she's done and what she's going to do I thought was very very strong.

Blake: Howard, what did you think?

Howard: I guess, obviously they debated endlessly, endlessly, what he was going to get up there and say. These are smart people.

Mark: Very bold.

Howard: Oh there's no question. The polling must have shown that that was the way to most effectively resonate but I thought it was very effective in terms of Hillary's professional resume. Look, I think that's genuine. My reaction to it, as somebody who is not necessarily pre-disposed to like her is it was genuine, but the other part of it was totally disingenuous.

Mark: I don't know how you can judge that. I don't know you can judge the sincerity of Bill Clinton up on that stage last night, whether it presented. As somebody said afterwards, Bill Clinton is the best ever at faking authenticity. What's really going on ... I quarrel with disingenuous. How it played I don't know.

Howard: Here's the thing -- and I don't want to take us down into the gutter -- but I think the way I would say it is if you are the average, if you're anybody watching that speech, there is a name that keeps popping up in your head as he's talking about the love of his life. The initials are M. L.

Mark: No question.

Howard: How can you ...

Mark: Because it's there and they had to do something with it.

Howard: Right, but that doesn't mean that it was authentic or ...

Blake: It wasn't authentic to you, right?

Howard: That's what I'm ... Yeah.

Blake: I think that's the great debate. I think the great unknown of this speech -- and actually as I was walking around Philadelphia today I bumped into the master of all things, Steve Cozen -- and he wanted to offer his reflections on Bill Clinton's speech. His reaction was there's criticism over the context of the speech. He said, "My reaction was that it humanized her. It had nothing to do with him. My takeaway was it helped humanize her, which is a real challenge that the electorate has with her." They don't relate to her in the same way that, quite frankly, I think the Clinton would like for them to relate to her. I want to get your reactions to that. Was the speech about him? One of our concerns was always, "Who's the speech going to be about? Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton?" Who was the speech about last night, Mark?

Mark: At risk of offending your friend, my view of Bill Clinton's speech, my view of the place that that speech occupied in this convention was, "We just had to get through it," and we got through it.

Howard: I completely agree with you.

Mark: That's the bottom line, we just had to get through.

Blake: Yeah Howard, I want to come to you because it's really funny having been down there for 2 nights. It really seems like -- and I was sharing some messages with some friends last night -- it really seems like the first 2 days of this convention were just get through them. We had -- I talked about earlier -- we had the Michelle Obama moment, but you still had to get through that. She had to deliver, which, you and I both know, she's fully capable of and did, but you had to get through the first 2 days. You had to get through the roll call, you had to get through the issues over the platform, you had to deal with the Debbie Wasserman Schultz issue, you had to get the Bernie people in the convention mixing the with the Clinton people and see if they could all behave. We're through that, Howard, now we're on to day 3, and day 3 is Barack Obama's day. What do you think about ... Does the dynamic change a little bit, do think?

Howard: That was a great way of shifting the conversation away from your friend Bill Clinton.

Mark: We got through it.

Howard: He got through it, which, I agree, that's all they were trying to do.

Mark: It was only 50 minutes, not bad.

Howard: I said 48. That was my prediction. Today's the star power day. Biden and Obama. Today's the big day, and I think now the concern is don't overshadow Hillary, because you could say whatever you want, and we just did, about getting through last night. President Clinton is a superstar, nobody can speak as effectively as Bill Clinton, including by the way, Barack Obama, but Barack Obama is the president of the United States and he too is a orator. I think Biden will give a great speech when he speaks but I think now, how do you set up Hillary for Thursday night, because I don't know, talking to people around town, they're more excited about tonight by far than they are about Thursday night.

Blake: What's really interesting, Mark, I wanted to get your reaction to that, because as I was walking around Philadelphia this morning and in talking to people and engaging with them, everything I keep hearing from them is tonight is the night. While that, for the Democrats, feels great, to Howard's point, that's not exactly where I think you want all of the emphasis and attention necessarily, but I want to get your reaction to that.

Mark: Unless it gets elected. Unless it gets you elected. She, our nominee, Secretary Clinton, is likely to be overshadowed by some of the speeches that came before. It's not her great strength. She could rise to the occasion, and I'm rooting for her, but she may well be overshadowed. I promise you -- and you know her far better than I do, Blake -- I promise you if you said to her, "Okay, here's your choice, you get overshadowed and you get elected or you're the star and you don't," not a hard decision. Sure, the president I expected tonight is going to do this party the most good that anybody except maybe his wife could possibly do because he is the president and he is popular still. The Bernie people are okay with him. They're okay with him. We're past the risk ...

Blake: Howard, but isn't this the lesson of 2012? You all were there in Charlotte. Bill Clinton gave the speech of the convention in 2012, not Barack Obama. It's to your point, Mark, very much okay to, in the same way that we've talked about great speeches, Obama in 04 being a perfect example of a speech that lives on. Howard, tonight it seems to me that the value add is that -- and the Democrats, while they've sort of taken on Trump on the issues and sort of done it on the periphery -- no one yet has stood up there and really made the case for why Donald Trump should not be president of the United States.

Mark: Until about 9:30 tonight.

Blake: Exactly, that's where I'm going with this. It seems to me that's where we're headed. What do you think?

Howard: I think Michelle gave a pretty impassioned speech about why Donald Trump shouldn't be president. That may wind up -- even though it was first night -- we'll see if her husband can outdo her. She was pretty amazing, and accolades from both sides of the aisle. She was awesome.

Mark: Absolutely. What's interesting, just as a footnote, if I may for the political nerds in our audience, you go back -- I'm just sitting here thinking about this -- the nominee almost never gives the best speech. Almost never. Not in Charlotte in 2012, and certainly not in Boston in 2004, and Mario Cuomo and Ted Kennedy. Somehow on our side the nominee never gives the best speech.

Howard: I think the thing that they have to get out on the last 2 days is they have to make the case for Hillary deserving to be president of the United States. I think there is a perception where ... By the way, I think it's really, I think this is one of those cases where it's not that perception is reality, I think reality is ...

Mark: Reality is reality.

Howard: This is all kind of baked. It's not news to the world that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are not the best of friends and they cut a deal. It's not news to the world that Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton have a whatever kind of marriage they have. It's like they cut a deal, and obviously I'm not close enough to that to know that, but she's got to make the case. The case has to be made over the next 2 days that she has earned the presidency. Not that she should be the next president but that she's earned presidency. She has not convinced the American people yet that that's the case.

Blake: Clearly. What, from your perspective, if you're sitting down with the president's speech writers, where do you go with this speech? If he is setting the stage from the perspective of, "Hey, I've been in the job for 8 years. Not that I was a spouse to someone who was in the job for 8 years, but I've been in the job for 8 years, she's served for 4," how do you do that, Howard? What do you talk about?

Howard: I think you talk about the late nights and the lonely decisions and you talk about her being a trusted advisor as Secretary of State, even though she wasn't.

Mark: Well she was Secretary of State.

Howard: She was Secretary of State but she wasn't a trusted advisor as Secretary of State. I think that's what you do. I think you talk about the late nights and the lonely decisions because that's real. That's real. You talk about Sandy Hook and you talk about Dallas and you talk about sending troops into battle. You talk about those moments and those decisions where you need maturity. You talk about 2008 for that matter where big decisions need to be made and that she's the candidate out there in this race that's fit to make them. I think that's what you do.

Blake: Mark, you know the president incredibly well. You're familiar with his style. What do you think about tonight? What do you think that we're going to both hear from him and what do you think the reaction's going to be?

Mark: I think the reaction is going to be extremely loud and extremely positive. This is interesting to me at least. This is his valedictory address in many ways and it may be the last time you hear Barack Obama -- certainly as president -- but maybe ever addressing a Democratic National Convention, especially since I would cancel the 2020 one as I said before. You are going to hear about why Donald Trump is unqualified to sit in that office and you are going to hear about why Hillary Clinton is qualified, as Howard was saying, the late nights and the hard decisions, but you're also going to hear about what Barack Obama got done. You're going to hear ... It's a legacy speech for president Obama, and I think -- I'm not speech writer -- but I think you're going to hear about what he got done, how Donald Trump couldn't have done it and how Hillary Clinton helped him.

Blake: Howard, in terms of -- and I'm going to talk about the legacy moment -- because I go back to actually the 2000 convention, when Bill Clinton gave his speech and, talk about complex dynamics for some of the things that you brought up earlier. I still remember that moment in Los Angeles where -- and it was a live intro, he's walking down the corridor -- and it's flashing up all of the achievements of the Clinton/Gore Administration, 22 million new jobs, highest rate of home ownership. That convention just went from interested to berserk and I thought that was a moment of that convention. Didn't work out for Al Gore as we now know, but Howard, in terms of talking to Mark's point about talking about the record, does this become a speech where we feel better about the Obama Administration collectively, or is this a speech where Democrats feel better about the Obama Administration?

Howard: I think it's a speech where people that went into the speech feeling like they wanted to feel good about the Obama Administration still feel good and people that didn't don't.

Mark: Barack Obama has been a Rorschach test since he burst on the national scene and that's how he's going to leave. I agree entirely with that. You see what you want when you look at this man. Some people see something very evil and dark, some people see something very unrealistic and supernatural. He's going to leave as he entered. He's a Rorschach test for the country.

Blake: Howard, concluding thoughts because we're wrapping up on our time here. We are in day 3, we have the president tonight. What have you not seen from this convention that you feel like you need to see over the next 2 days?

Howard: I'll answer the first part of that question. Donald Trump. We haven't seen Donald Trump, which, I think if you're the Democrats, is a victory. His primary was all about controlling the news cycle and whatever the reason over the past several days -- since Friday really, for good reasons and bad reasons -- but regardless, the Democrats have controlled the news cycle. As long as they get out of this convention having controlled the news cycle, that's enough. I think she'll get a bit of a bounce and then we move on. This is all about the debates as far as I'm concerned.

Mark: It's a hundred days from Friday is the election. We entered this convention inside the margin of error, we're leaving it inside the margin of error. Maybe we take the 2 point bounce that he took. This convention is going to leave us with a hundred days. Every single day it's going to be inside the margin of error. That's what this election is going to be. The country is divided on this question and we aren't going to know until November 8th who the next president is.

Blake: On that note I'm looking forward to day 3. We'll see what happens. We'll be back tomorrow. We'll talk about the president's speech, we'll preview Secretary Clinton's speech and get after it once again, so guys, great to be with you as always. Thanks for listening.

Howard: Thanks.

Mark: Thanks Blake.


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