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What Hillary Clinton’s Speech Accomplished

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On the latest Keepin’ It 1600, Dan Pfeiffer and Jon Favreau recapped the Democratic National Convention. The also broke down Hillary Clinton’s headlining address, drawing on their experiences working with Barack Obama to detail how giving a speech as the nominee is so difficult and to show what Clinton accomplished in hers.

For a full reaction to the convention, listen to the latest podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

She Reintroduced Herself

Jon Favreau: The nominee at every convention has the most difficult job of any speaker because a convention speech from a nominee has a lot of business to do and you just can’t get around that. You need to talk about your bio and reintroduce yourself, especially someone like Hillary Clinton, who is the most famous woman in the world who no one really knows. So she really had to talk about what drives her, her passions, where she comes from.

You have to do the contrast with your opponent. You have to lay out specific policy. You have to tie it all together with a theme and a vision, so you have to string all that policy together so it’s not just a laundry list and that, for anyone, is a very difficult task.

Barack Obama’s 2008 convention speech when he was the nominee was much, much tougher to write and probably not as satisfying to write as 2004 or 2016. So, I think with all that in mind, she did a really great job and I think Trump offered [no policy or vision] except “Build a wall,” but I think even if you agree with Trump’s dark, pessimistic vision of the country, you’d have to say that aside from the wall, he offered pretty much nothing in that speech. She offered plenty.

Not only that, I like in the speech that she embraced her wonkiness, like, she acknowledged, “I know people say that I sweat the details of policy; well, the reason is because these details actually matter in people’s lives,” and then she went through a very long list of all the people that she’s helped and dealt with over the years, and whose lives she’s improved, so I thought that was effective.

She Laid Out Her Plan

Dan Pfeiffer: I was doing CNN, talking to reporters, and the big takeaway all day Thursday was Michelle Obama was amazing, Bill Clinton was great, Barack Obama was amazing, Joe Biden was amazing. How can Hillary Clinton match up to that? Can she meet expectations? And the truth is, she doesn’t have to be better than them. That’s not what this is about.

Voters aren’t like, “Well, I find her policy compelling, I’ve learned more about her personal story, but boy, her speech was not as good as that other speech from 48 hours ago, so I’ll probably be for Trump.” She just has to be good. She doesn’t have to be better than anybody else.

And it’s harder to make your own case than it is for other people to make a case for you. So of course those other speeches are gonna be tighter, better on some sort of oratory scale, but will this go down with Obama ’04 or [Mario] Cuomo ’84 or all the great Democratic speeches of all time? No, but [Hillary’s camp] had a list of strategic objectives to communicate in that speech and I think they achieved that. If you’re a voter who is concerned about Trump, but not yet sold on Hillary, if you saw that speech, it may not have moved you all the way into Hillary’s camp — in some cases it may have — but it’s moved you close to there. What they’re trying to do is create a permission structure for some set of voters to feel OK to vote for Hillary because they’re concerned about Trump, and I think they had success in that last night.

J.F.: I think that’s exactly right. Also, her delivery was outstanding. I thought she told stories, she didn’t try to run into every applause line. There were a lot of quiet moments in the speech. And she looked comfortable and confident and she looked happy and all of that looked genuine. She delivered the speech very, very well.

She Humanized Herself

D.P.: Did you watch the Shonda Rhimes video beforehand?

J.F.: Yes.

D.P.: I thought that was a great video.

J.F.: She did great in that. She did so well in that video.

D.P.: That was the best I’ve seen Hillary Clinton. She seemed so real and genuine and excited and impassioned about why she’s running for president.

I did a lot of thinking after this. I’ve been supportive of Hillary. I’ve wanted her to win and I’ve been excited about it, obviously. But part of what has certainly motivated me is I really want Barack Obama to be followed by a Democrat and all the work that we did to be cemented and, from a competitive perspective, to go down in history as one of the few presidents who served two terms and is succeeded by someone [from his own party]. I want him to be like Democratic Reagan, so 10 years from now, Democrats try to rename everything after Barack Obama. But the combination of that video and that speech made me as excited for Hillary Clinton as president that I’ve been thus far. For not just her continuing the work that Barack Obama did, but for what it means for my niece, for the country. And, not to get sappy, but it’s Democrats like us: We, [the] Obama coalition, in some way, shape, or form [are] even more fired up for Hillary than we might have been before. That’s a successful speech, because all that matters in the end is Obama voters vote for her.

She Got What She Wanted Out of Donald Trump

J.F.: I was really happy this morning on Twitter. I thought the speech worked because Donald Trump has gone on a crazy tweetstorm this morning. He was tweeting during her speech last night, which was fine or whatever, but those seem like tweets that were written by Paul Manafort and the campaign. This morning was much more vintage Trump, and one of the great things she did in that speech outside is [the] line, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

D.P.: Best line of the speech.

J.F.: Well, it’s not just, like, a good line, it’s an effective tool here because now this morning Donald Trump starts saying, “She says I can’t handle a campaign, but I beat [16] Republicans,” and he’s just going off. And every time he does this now, he’s only reminding people that that line is absolutely correct. Anybody who wants to respond to a Donald Trump tweet with that line from now on, you should go do that. I think it’s gonna be an evergreen Twitter response.

She Got Her Audience to Buy In

J.F.: The campaign probably has some reaction that they’ll get over the next couple days, and we’ll see polls over the next couple of days. But because everyone was bed-wetting the Trump instapoll reaction from CNN last week, where 57 percent said they had a very positive opinion of Trump’s speech, they did one for Hillary’s and her number was 71, which I think, Dan, was exactly the number that you said she should have.

D.P.: I think I said 70.

J.F.: You nailed it.

D.P.: I think I said 70 and then I backed down to 65 just to create some margin of error, but I think that that is a very good number and they should be pleased with it. If last night’s ratings, which I haven’t seen yet, are like the rest of the convention, they’re pretty far exceeding the Republican Convention, which must drive Donald Trump insane that the one thing he’s supposed to be good at is TV and the Democrats put on a better TV show with a bigger audience.