In one of the most powerful convention endorsement speeches ever made by a sitting president, Barack Obama on Wednesday masterfully reshaped Donald Trump’s division of the nation into “us and them” — putting Hillary Clinton, the middle class and American values on one side and the New York narcissist alone on the other.
It was a consummate rhetorical stroke by Obama, who said, “there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President.” His address followed searing attacks on Trump and testimony for Clinton from Leon Panetta, Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden and Tim Kaine.
At the end of Obama’s speech, amid wild cheering, Clinton herself made a surprise appearance in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and joined the president on stage where they warmly embraced and beamed for an adoring audience and the TV cameras to the strains of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
In his speech last week to the Republican National Convention, Trump had painted a dystopian vision of America, wracked by crime, overrun by immigrants, easy prey for Islamic terrorists and corroded by corruption. “Nobody knows the system better than me,” Trump had said. “Which is why I alone can fix it.”
Obama – and Biden and Kaine, too – ripped that vision apart, speaking directly to middle-class voters and painting Trump’s world view as distinctly un-American and at odds with the values infused in our national character. Said the president:
We are not a fragile or frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order. We don’t look to be ruled. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago; We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that together, We, the People, can form a more perfect union.
That’s who we are. That’s our birthright – the capacity to shape our own destiny. That’s what drove patriots to choose revolution over tyranny and our GIs to liberate a continent. It’s what gave women the courage to reach for the ballot, and marchers to cross a bridge in Selma, and workers to organize and fight for better wages.
America has never been about what one person says he’ll do for us. It’s always been about what can be achieved by us, together, through the hard, slow, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately enduring work of self-government.
“America is already great,” Obama said as well, flipping Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan on its head “America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump.”
As surgical as he was in attacking Trump, Obama was effusive in his praise of Clinton:
You know, nothing truly prepares you for the demands of the Oval Office. Until you’ve sat at that desk, you don’t know what it’s like to manage a global crisis, or send young people to war. But Hillary’s been in the room; she’s been part of those decisions. She knows what’s at stake in the decisions our government makes for the working family, the senior citizen, the small business owner, the soldier, and the veteran. Even in the middle of crisis, she listens to people, and keeps her cool, and treats everybody with respect. And no matter how daunting the odds; no matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits.
That’s the Hillary I know. That’s the Hillary I’ve come to admire. And that’s why I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America.
“I’m ready to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen,” he said “This year, in this election, I’m asking you to join me — to reject cynicism, reject fear, to summon what’s best in us; to elect Hillary Clinton as the next President of the United States, and show the world we still believe in the promise of this great nation,”
Full text of Obama’s speech here
Here is a look at the other key speeches of the night:
Michael Bloomberg: Trump not “sane.”
Besides Obama’s, the most important speech of the night belonged to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a political independent who at one point considered launching his own non-partisan campaign for president.
Bloomberg knows fellow New Yorker Trump well and minced few words in explaining why he is endorsing Democrat Clinton, despite some of his policy disagreements with her. Assailing Trump as a con man – “New Yorkers know a con when we see one,” he said – and said publicly what every Democrat secretly believes but has been too cautious to say – The Donald is legitimately nuts:
“Let’s elect a sane, competent person with international experience,” he said.
…When the Founding Fathers arrived here in Philadelphia to forge a new nation, they didn’t come as Democrats or Republicans, or to nominate a presidential candidate. They came as patriots who feared party politics. I know how they felt. I’ve been a Democrat, I’ve been a Republican, and I eventually became an Independent because I don’t believe either party has a monopoly on good ideas or strong leadership…
…There are times when I disagree with Hillary. But whatever our disagreements may be, I’ve come here to say: We must put them aside for the good of our country. And we must unite around the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue…
Today, as an Independent, an entrepreneur, and a former mayor, I believe we need a president who is a problem-solver, not a bomb-thrower; someone who can bring members of Congress together, to get big things done. And I know Hillary Clinton can do that, because I saw it firsthand!..
Throughout his career, Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies, thousands of lawsuits, angry shareholders and contractors who feel cheated, and disillusioned customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business. God help us.
I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one!
Trump says he’ll punish manufacturers that move to Mexico or China, but the clothes he sells are made overseas in low-wage factories. He says he wants to put Americans back to work, but he games the U.S. visa system so he can hire temporary foreign workers at low wages. He says he wants to deport 11 million undocumented people, but he seems to have no problem in hiring them. What’d I miss here?!
Truth be told, the richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy. He wants you to believe that we can solve our biggest problems by deporting Mexicans and shutting out Muslims. He wants you to believe that erecting trade barriers will bring back good jobs. He’s wrong on both counts….
The bottom line is: Trump is a risky, reckless, and radical choice. And we can’t afford to make that choice…
Now, I know Hillary Clinton is not flawless; no candidate is. But she is the right choice — and the responsible choice — in this election. No matter what you may think about her politics or her record, Hillary Clinton understands that this is not reality television; this is reality. She understands the job of president. It involves finding solutions, not pointing fingers, and offering hope, not stoking fear…
To me, this election is not a choice between a Democrat and a Republican. It’s a choice about who is better to lead our country right now: better for our economy, better for our security, better for our freedom, and better for our future…
There is no doubt in my mind that Hillary Clinton is the right choice this November. Let’s elect a sane, competent person with international experience.”
Bloomberg’s full text is here.
Joe Biden: “Actually, Trump has no clue, period.”
Vice President Joe Biden not only delivered plenty of red meat to the liberal crowd but also performed the political more crucial mission of speaking directly to the white, working class voters that have abandoned the Democrats in large numbers and now form Trump’s base.
Having grown up blue collar in Pennsylvania and Delaware, Biden’s heart-on-the-sleeve passion, gravelly voice and blustery rhetorical style, which would sound phony in most other politicians, is authentic and he used his throwback speechmaking style and skill to offer himself as a character witness for Clinton’s concern for the middle class while attacking Trump as a phony concerned only about himself.
“He is trying to tell us he cares about the middle class,” Biden said. “Give me a break.”
…Let me say this as clearly as I can, if you live in the neighborhoods like the ones Jill and I grew up in, if you worry about your job and getting a decent pay, if you worry about your children’s education, if you are taking care of an elderly parent, then there is only one person in this election who will help you, only one person in this race who will be there, who has always been there for you, and that is Hillary Clinton’s life story. Not just who she is, it is her life story. She is always there.
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s say the obvious, that is not Donald Trump’s story.
Just listen to me a second, without booing or cheering. His cynicism and undoubtedly his lack of empathy and compassion can be summed up in that phrase he is most proud of making famous: “You’re fired.”
I’m not joking. Think about that. Think about that. Think about everything you learned as a child. No matter where you were raised, how can there be pleasure in saying, “You’re fired?”
He is trying to tell us he cares about the middle class. Give me a break. That is a bunch of malarkey…
This guy does not have a clue about the middle class. Not a clue. Because folks, when the middle class does well, the rich do very well and the poor have hope. They have a way out. He has no clue about what makes America great. Actually, he has no clue period.
Folks, let me say, let me say something that has nothing to do with politics. Let me talk about something that I’m deadly serious about. This is a complicated and uncertain world we live in. The threats are too great, the times are too uncertain, to elect Donald Trump as president of the United States.
Let me finish, no major party, no major party nominee in the history of the station has ever known less or been less prepared to deal with our national security.
We cannot elect a man who exploits our fears of ISIS and other terrorists, who has no plan whatsoever to make us safer. A man who embraces the tactics of our enemies, torture, religious intolerance, you all know.
Other Republics know, that is not who we are. It betrays our values. It alienates those who we need in the fight against ISIS. Donald Trump, with all his rhetoric, would literally make us less safe. We cannot elect a man who belittles our closest allies while embracing dictators like Vladimir Putin. I mean it.
A man who seeks to sow division in America for his own gain and disorder around the world. A man who confuses bluster with strength. We simply cannot let that happen as Americans. Period…
Ordinary people like us, who do extraordinary things, we had candidates before attempting get elected by appealing to our fears, but they’ve never succeeded because we do not scare easily. We never bow, we never break, when confronted with crisis. We endure! We overcome and we always move forward…
The 21st century is going to be the American century. Because we lead not only by example of our power, but by the power of our example. That is the history of the journey of Americans. And God willing, Hillary Clinton will write the next chapter in that journey…
A full Biden transcript is here.
Tim Kaine: Trump’s passion “is himself.”
Surrounded by great speakers, newly minted Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine came as advertised: a little dull, a little plodding and astonishingly normal.
But Kaine achieved multiple aims in his address: he positioned himself as a natural centrist, summing up his life story as the son of a blue collar small businessman and son-in-law of a moderate local Republican politician, with values shaped by working with poor people in Honduras; he established himself as Hillary’s cheerleader-in-chief; he introduced a not-bad Trump imitation in using humor more than anger to attack the GOP candidate; and he rolled out his Spanish language skills, busting several bilingual moves that drew big cheers.
“Donald, what are you hiding?” he asked about Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, a refrain that will no doubt soon become very familiar.
…Anne’s parents, Lin and Jinks, are here today, 90-plus and going strong. Lin’s still a Republican. But he’s voting for a lot of Democrats these days. Because any party that would nominate Donald Trump for president has moved too far away from his party of Lincoln. And if any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln, we’ve got a home for you right here in the Democratic Party….
Here’s a little tip for you: When you want to know about the character of someone in public life, look to see if they have a passion, one that began before they were in office, and that they have consistently held on to throughout their career.
Hillary’s passion is kids and families. Donald Trump has a passion too: It’s himself…
You know who I don’t trust? Donald Trump. The guy promises a lot. But you might have noticed, he has a habit of saying the same two words right after he makes his biggest promises. You guys know the words I mean? ‘Believe me. It’s gonna be great – believe me! We’re gonna build a wall and make Mexico pay for it – believe me! We’re gonna destroy ISIS so fast – believe me! There’s nothing suspicious in my tax returns –believe me!”
By the way, does anyone here believe that Donald Trump’s been paying his fair share of taxes? Do you believe he ought to release those tax returns like every other presidential candidate in modern history? Of course he should. Donald, what are you hiding?
And yet he still says, “Believe me.” ”Believe me?” Here’s the thing. Most people, when they run for President, they don’t just say “believe me.” They respect you enough to tell you how they will get things done…
Not Donald Trump. He never tells you how he’s going to do any of the things he says he’s going to do. He just says, “believe me.” So here’s the question. Do you really believe him? Donald Trump’s whole career says you better not.
Small contractors – companies just like my dad’s –believed him when he said that he’d pay them to build a casino in Atlantic City. They did the work, hung the drywall, poured the concrete. But a year after opening, Trump filed for bankruptcy. He walked away with millions. They got pennies on the dollar. Some of them went out of business. All because they believed Donald Trump.
Retirees and families in Florida believed Donald Trump when he said he’d build them condos. They paid their deposits, but the condos were never built. He just pocketed their money, and walked away. They lost tens of thousands of dollars, all because they believed Donald Trump.
Charity after charity believed Donald Trump when he said he would contribute to them. And thousands of Trump University students believed Donald Trump when he said he would help them succeed. They got stiffed.
He says “believe me.” Well, his creditors, his contractors, his laid-off employees, his ripped-off students did just that. Folks, you cannot believe one word that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth.
Our nation is too great to put it in the hands of a slick-talking, empty-promising, self-promoting, one man wrecking crew…So, do you believe him? Does anybody here believe him?
Kaine’s speech text is here.
Leon Panetta: Trump is “beyond the pale.”
Former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta presented a strong national security case against Trump, stopping just short of accusing the hirsute human Chucky doll of treason for his off-the-wall comments earlier in the day, inviting the Russians to hack Clinton’s email.
But Panetta’s speech also featured the only sour note of the evening, when lefty delegates, many from California (why do we feel certain that human leaf blower Norman Solomon was among them?), shouted “No More War” – stupidly interrupting the guy who is a national hero for commanding the troops who killed Osama Bin Laden.
Although he struggled at times to be heard, Panetta made a clear and convincing argument, saying that Trump has proven himself “truly not qualified” to lead the country.
This just is beyond my own understanding of the responsibilities that candidates have to be loyal to their country and to their country alone, not to reach out to somebody like Putin and Russia, and try to engage them in an effort to try to, in effect, conduct a conspiracy against another party…
You’ve got now a presidential candidate who is in fact asking the Russians to engage in American politics and I just think that’s beyond the pale. I have a lot of concerns of his qualities of leadership or lack thereof. That kind of statement only reflects the fact that he truly is not qualified to be president of the United States.
Politico’s Greatest Hits on Trump
H/T to Politico for pulling together the 21 top smackdowns on Trump from the third day of the DNC in Philly, including several from California speakers:
“Donald Trump says he gets his foreign-policy experience from watching TV and running the Miss Universe pageant. If only it were funny, but it is deadly serious.”
–Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
“Trump strangled the sunny optimism of Ronald Reagan and replaced ‘Tear down that wall’ with the cynical bigotry of “Build that wall.”
– California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom
“Even the Know Nothings, anti-immigrant party of the 1850s, did not stray this far into sheer ignorance and dark fantasy as have the Republicans and their leader Donald Trump.”
–California Gov. Jerry Brown
“Contempt for the Constitution, inhumane mass deportation, malice towards different views and different hues. Those are disqualifications from any office, let alone the highest office in the land.”