Hillary Clinton is set to face the nation with the goal of introducing the woman that speaker after speaker, including a pair of presidents, have spent days promising the American public they’ll finally get to see: the “real” Hillary Clinton.
In the biggest moment of her nearly 25-year political career, aides say Clinton on Thursday evening will lay out a positive vision for the future and detail her proposals to improve the economy, boost the country’s security and unite a divided nation. She aims to strike a stark contrast with Republican nominee Donald Trump, who offered few policy specifics in a convention address that presented a picture of a diminished nation.
But Clinton’s challenge has never been her command of policy.
During the course of her second presidential run, she has sat through hours of town halls, nodding and taking notes as community leaders detailed a litany of problems. They have yielded dozens of detailed policy proposals, addressing everything from puppy mills to insurance coverage for autism care.
Where Clinton has struggled is in presenting a clear and compelling rationale for her presidency. Since launching her bid last summer, the Democratic nominee has cycled through a series of slogans: “Fighting for Us,” ”Breaking Down Barriers” and, most recently, “Stronger Together.”
“She needs to connect, she needs to become a little bit more human,” said Mo Elleithee, a former Democratic strategist who worked as Clinton’s campaign press secretary in 2008. “It’s not that she has experience, it’s that she has a record of fighting for you.”
For decades, Americans have been fascinated by Clinton’s rise through politics, her persistence in the face of failures and her capacity for enduring scandal. But they’ve struggled to believe in her, or even simply believe her.
Aides say it’s a problem born out of Clinton’s desire to make her work — and not her personality — the focus. Though she’s one of the most famous politicians in the world, they argue that voters still don’t really know much about her accomplishments.
“Hillary Clinton is a workhorse, not a showhorse. Rather than do a lot of press conferences, she’s just moved on to the next thing,” said campaign manager Robby Mook. “There’s a price to pay for that, which is you get a lot done and you help a lot of people, but maybe people don’t know as much about what you have done.”
That’s a flattering explanation for a serious political challenge. Polling shows that while Americans don’t doubt Clinton’s qualifications, they question her honesty, a problem made worse by the congressional and FBI investigations into her use of a private email account and server as secretary of state.
In recent weeks, Clinton has begun acknowledging the fact that many Americans do not trust her, a problem she once dismissed as the result of decades of Republican attacks.
She sees her convention speech as an opportunity to build trust with voters by showing off her commitment to policies that she believes can improve their lives, such as paid family leave or college costs. Her staff says she’s spent weeks thinking through her message and crafting her address.
“I can faithfully report that she is in a very positive frame of mind,” said longtime aide and top policy staffer Jake Sullivan. “She views Thursday night as her opportunity to address the nation about her ideas, about the moment we’re in and about what motivates her.”
But earning a country’s trust is not a problem that can be fixed in any single speech — or even a four-day convention.
With Clinton largely absent from the convention stage — she made a brief cameo on stage Wednesday night after Obama spoke — the convention speakers in Philadelphia urged Americans to see beyond what Bill Clinton called the “cartoon” of Clinton created by adversaries.
“Dorothy and Hugh’s daughter and my sweet friend,” proclaimed childhood friend Betsey Eberling.
Or a tenacious politician who Obama said has been “accused of everything you can imagine and some things you can’t.”
“But she knows that’s what happens when you’re under a microscope for 40 years,” Obama said of his preferred successor. “She knows that sometimes during those 40 years, she’s made mistakes, just like I have, just like we all do.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.