Editorial: Clinton address will be a tricky task

The Detroit News

A Democratic convention carefully structured to restore faith in Hillary Clinton culminates tonight with the candidate making her own case that Americans can trust her to unite and lead the nation honestly and capably. It’s a tough job.

Trust remains the major barrier between Clinton and the White House. Clinton’s qualifications for the office she seeks are undeniable. Yet she goes into tonight in a virtual tie with the deeply flawed Republican nominee, Donald Trump, largely because her own struggles with veracity and transparency have created the perception, rooted in reality, that she is the embodiment of a calculating politician, shaving the truth when it serves her interests.

That image wasn’t helped when it was revealed at the start of the convention that the Democratic National Committee had conspired to sabotage the campaign of her primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to step down, but then was added to the Clinton campaign team, further fueling the conspiracy theorists who dominate Sanders’ camp.

Tonight is not the stage for confessions and apologies. But Clinton must be aware that many Americans don’t trust her. And she must move them past their concerns if she hopes to win in November.

The convention has built to this point. On Tuesday, Bill Clinton delivered a stirring love letter to his wife. It was the former president at his charming best, though viewers could not have missed the irony of such a gushy tribute given what they know about the Clinton marriage. He was the last in a line of speakers who sought to make Hillary Clinton more approachable.

Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama made the case for Clinton’s competency and ability to step right into the Oval Office. And her running mate, Tim Kaine, provided a rare glimpse at a centrist in this campaign.

Tonight, Mrs. Clinton will be speaking to two audiences: the Democratic partisans inside the Wells Fargo Center, and the broader electorate watching on television. They are not necessarily looking for the same thing.

Democrats have coddled and cajoled Bernie Sanders supporters all week to move them away from their delusions and into line behind Clinton, and with mixed results. The effort to appease the Berners has prompted Clinton to embrace many of the pet causes of the Vermont senator.

But the nation as a whole is not nearly as liberal as Clinton has become in seeking the nomination. Moderates and Independents remain largely uncommitted in this election precisely because neither party is speaking to their concerns.

“They are the least motivated voters so far,” says Richard Czuba of the Glengarriff Group, the Detroit News pollster.

This convention has appealed to every possible identity and grievance group imaginable, but has had little to say to middle America. Biden Wednesday urged Democrats to start talking to white, blue collar males who are bailing out of the party. Clinton should speak to them tonight.

She has to reconcile her professed concern with their condition with the impact of her energy and environmental policies on their jobs.

Last week, Republicans made public safety and national security top priorities of their convention in Cleveland. Democrats have brushed past those issues for the most part. But voters are worried and fearful. Clinton must offer a defense of the decision making of the administration she served and which failed to recognize and counter the rising threat from ISIS.

Again, she must craft a message for the middle. That makes it harder to assuage the Sanders socialists, but it is what it will take to win this election.

Every convention acceptance speech includes a lusty demonization of the opponent, and Clinton’s will as well. But she would be smart not to try to match the stridency and anger of Trump’s speech a week ago. It was unattractive then and it would be tonight. Voters are looking for a leader to heal their divides, not rip them further apart.

Clinton has struggled to define herself in this campaign. Tonight she has her chance.