Monday 5 December 2016

With a bold 'come hither', Democrats woo disaffected Republicans fleeing Trump

David Usborne in Philadelphia

Published 29/07/2016 | 02:30

Delegate Chris Davis of Centennial, CO and supporter of Bernie Sanders speaks with Sen. Wesley Bishop of New Orleans and Hillary Clinton supporter
Delegate Chris Davis of Centennial, CO and supporter of Bernie Sanders speaks with Sen. Wesley Bishop of New Orleans and Hillary Clinton supporter

Even as speaker after speaker has been reaching out to supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders in Philadelphia this week, something else has been going on. And it is becoming ever more unsubtle. The party is also dressing itself in blatant Republican garb.

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It wasn't just Barack Obama evoking Ronald Reagan's description of America as "a shining city on a hill" on Wednesday. That was usual form for him. When Mr Obama was running against Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries, he lauded Mr Reagan for changing "the trajectory of America" and said Republicans "were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time".

Mrs Clinton gave him hell for those comments, countering that the Republican Party was the home of bad ideas that were bad for the country. You won't see her repeating that line now.

True, the Democrats risk doing the splits. Salving the hurt felt by Mr Sanders's supporters is urgent.

The convention has been at pains to emphasise issues vital to them, like climate change. One after another, speakers on stage have paid tribute to the senator from Vermont

Cheers

They notably included vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, a centrist who is part of the siren call to conservatives. After labelling Mr Sanders a key ally in the push for more resources for healthcare and education, Senator Kaine heard cheers from the floor and went off script. "We all should feel the Bern and we all should not want to get burned by the other guy," he said.

But the party is right to sense another opportunity. With Donald Trump as their standard-bearer, the Republicans have forgotten to turn on the house alarm and left the door wide open. How many Republicans will be queasy voting for a man who has walked away from so many basic tenets of their party and then trampled all over them? His flirting with Russia and invitation to its intelligence services to ransack Ms Clinton's email archives is only the latest example.

The come-hither to those Republicans recoiling from Mr Trump was put plainly enough by Mr Obama.

"What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn't particularly Republican - and it sure wasn't conservative," he declared, lamenting the "deeply pessimistic vision" of America offered by their convention.

"There were no serious solutions to pressing problems," he went on, "just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate".

Nor was it happenstance that Michael Bloomberg was given a coveted speaking slot just before Mr Obama on Wednesday evening, someone, you may recall, who was elected Mayor of New York as a Republican before he declared himself an independent.

His job was to debunk Mr Trump's pitch that his alleged success as a billionaire business mogul makes him fit to be president.

That message was always going to be best delivered by another billionaire business mogul. "Trump says he wants to run the nation like he's run his business. God help us," Bloomberg said to rapturous applause. "I'm a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one."

And they had a surprise speaker for the last night of their convention. He is Doug Elmets, not a household name, perhaps, but one whom alumni of Mr Reagan's administration will instantly recognise. He served in the Reagan White House as a press officer in the energy department. He is a life-long Republican. Or was, until Mr Trump barged into the room.

His speech was the Democrats' most undisguised attempt of the week to ask disaffected members of the Republican Party to switch allegiances, like he has, to Mrs Clinton. That will notably include those Republicans who hold the party's traditional foreign policy teachings close to their hearts - something Mr Trump apparently has no affinity with whatsoever. The ones, you know, who think Nato might be precious and a nuclear-free Japan is a good idea.

"It's a bitter pill, but supporting Hillary Clinton is a much better alternative to the xenophobic Donald Trump," Mr Elmets told the 'Sacramento Bee', his local newspaper, recently.

Regan

Mr Obama's overtures to the Reagan constituency meanwhile hardly went unnoticed on Wednesday. "Take about five paragraphs out of that Obama speech and it could have been a Reagan speech," tweeted former Reagan speechwriter John Podhoretz. "Trust me. I know."

Rich Lowry, editor of 'National Review', was on the same scent.

"American exceptionalism and greatness, shining city on hill, founding documents, etc, they're trying to take all our stuff," he declared.

Some wondered if the Democrats might have persuaded one of the many Republican grandees who conspicuously absented themselves from Cleveland to appear on their stage instead. Anyone seen John McCain, Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush lurking in a Philadelphia Starbucks?

That, though, probably would have given Mr Sanders and his camp apoplexy.

Independent News Service

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