Politics

With 'Humility,' Clinton Accepts Democratic Nomination

She makes history as first woman to lead major party in U.S. presidential campaign

By John T. Bennett
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PHILADELPHIA -- When Barack Obama spoke at his final Democratic convention as president Wednesday night, it was impossible not to remember the night in 2004 when his first speech to the DNC in Boston launched him onto a lightening-fast path to the White House.

He was just a state senator then, but convention speeches can do that for a person who is able to match his rhetoric to the moment. It happened for Sen. Marco Rubio after he spoke to the Republican National Convention four years ago, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who can trace his spot on the short list for vice president this year to the speech he delivered as the mayor of San Antonio to the 2012 DNC.

So as the Republican and Democratic conventions wrapped up this week and last, I was curious to hear who party members and attendees thought had popped out as their parties' rising stars. But instead of long lists of new names, I almost universally got blank stares or extended silences.

"Um, nobody?" one Democrat said to me. Republicans had just about the same answer.

[ Daddy Issues Blow Up the GOP in Cleveland ]

For very different reasons, the conventions featured the faces of the past and present for each party, but the obvious stars of the future were harder to find.

For the Republicans in Cleveland, there were so many no-shows at the convention to nominate Donald Trump that the event became a huge missed opportunity to showcase their best and brightest talents. Neither South Carolina Gov, Nikki Haley nor Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval spoke last week at what could be their last moment on the national stage.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez stayed away and so did every member of the Bush family, including George P. Bush, Jeb's son and the land commissioner of Texas who is widely assumed to be the next Bush likely to be a breakout star.

I followed up with several delegates who went to the RNC to see who they remembered best. No one really stood out, one delegate said to me. Another agreed and added, "I'm sad for our country."

Others worried that if Trump fares poorly in November, he could take out dozens of the party's future leaders with him, whether they went to the Cleveland convention or not.

Democrats in Philadelphia seemed to have the opposite problem. With so many of the party's current generation of leaders and superstars in prime time spots, from Michelle Obama to Bill Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Barack Obama, there was simply too little light or oxygen left over for still-growing talent.

"There just wasn't room for anyone else," a delegate told me. When I asked another who might have emerged as the next Obama, the answer I got back was a shoulder shrug. "There's not much of a bench."

[ Michelle Obama: Star of the RNC and, Perhaps, the DNC ]

Together, the conventions seemed to both reflect and presage a potential lost generation of political leaders. The Trump factor may already be wiping out opportunities for young Republican leaders, who either don't want to be associated with him or won't have their jobs if he causes major losses down-ballot.

On the Democratic side, the two Obama terms were remembered in Philadelphia as eight years of moving forward on progressive promises, but they also cost Democrats control of the House and Senate and took out dozens of potential stars in the process. Would one of those defeated Democrats have risen to prominence at the DNC? We'll never know.

Of the conventions speakers who got the most buzz, Ivanka Trump and first lady Michelle Obama stood out as two of the very best. But they were deliberately apolitical speeches from two women who appear to have no interest in going into politics. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's performance stood out for some Democrats, but even he couldn't mail down one of the highest profile, late-in-the week slots with so many others getting the time.

We don't know yet how November will turn out, but it was easy enough to see this week that we'll have to wait four more years to see what the future is really going to look like for Democrats and Republicans, because we definitely didn't see it at the parties' conventions.

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.

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When Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night, he delivered an explosive indictment of Donald Trump and a passionate endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president.

"Everybody knows she's smart and everybody knows she's tough," he said. "But I know what Hillary is passionate about."

He spoke of Clinton's commitment to helping working parents and struggling families and described a woman prepared for the presidency and poised to make history.

"There is only one person in this race who will be there for you. And that is Hillary Clinton," Biden said. "She's always been there."

Biden also ripped Trump as a man dangerously unqualified for the White House and he took strong exception to Trump's mantra that America needs to be great again.

"Americans have never, never, never, never let their country down," Biden said to a roaring crowd. "We are America, second to none, and we own the finish line."

As Biden went on and the crowd chanted his name, it was impossible not to wonder what if, what might have happened had tragedy not stuck Biden's family again last year when his oldest son, Beau, died of brain cancer at just 46 years old.

[ Biden Pulls No Punches, Calls Trump Claims 'Malarkey' ]

Beau's illness and untimely death came in the midst of a time when Biden would ordinarily have been considering, and then planning, a third and final run for the White House. Biden was known to have wanted one last shot at the White House and many Democrats, even those who eventually supported Clinton, thought Biden's middle class grit and ability to connect with voters would make him the party's best shot to win again in 2016.

Several months after Beau's death, even as the presidential campaign was taking shape and moving forward, it was clear at a speech to a synagogue in Atlanta that Biden's heart was still breaking. "The factor is, "Can I do it? Can my family? The honest-to-God answer is I just don't know." he told his friend Stu Eisenstat.

A month after that, days after the first Democratic debate, Biden announced from the Rose Garden that he knew he had run out of time. He would not run for president after all.

"He's got to ask himself every day, 'What if?" one state Democratic party chair said to me Wednesday as we talked about what Biden might have brought to the race. What if Beau hadn't gotten cancer? What if Joe Biden had mounted one last run?

Like Clinton, Biden would have been eminently qualified for the job. But unlike Clinton, Biden could really connect — with Democrats, with working class voters, with many of the people who lately seem ready to leave the party behind.

Donald Trump now leads Clinton 58 percent to 30 percent among white voters without a college degree, according to a New York Times analysis. It would be a major improvement over Mitt Romney’s performance four years ago. Would Biden have been able to reverse those losses?

Nearly 70 percent of voters recently said they don't find Hillary Clinton to be honest and trustworthy. Would those same voters have trusted Biden more? Would he be leading Trump as a result?

Biden's candidacy would have certainly tacked closely to the values he said he'd continue fighting for in his Rose Garden speech — giving the middle class "a fighting chance;" draining the huge sums of money poring into American elections; providing free access to public education and ample access to increased tax credits for child care. He would have argued that Americans have to accept that we can't solve all of the world's problems, but it is our obligation to help each other get through our own.

[ Joe Biden's Full DNC Speech ]

The reality is that a Biden-Clinton showdown would undoubtedly have been bitter, and even Biden's chances at the nomination weren't guaranteed. He'd lost two presidential campaigns before and as vice president, he always seemed to be saying things that a more prudent politician would not.

But there will always be people, probably most especially Biden himself, who will wonder what would have happened if everything had been different. Would he be accepting the nomination for president in Philadelphia himself instead of cheering Hillary Clinton's nomination instead? But anyone who knows Biden also understands the real unknown in his heart is what if Beau had been okay? Would Beau be on his way to becoming the governor of Delaware, as he seemed poised to? Would it have been Beau, instead of his father, talked about at the Biden to run for president someday? Would he have won?

At the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008, Beau Biden introduced his father on the night he accepted the nomination for vice president, and called him "my friend, my father, my hero."

And he asked the crowd to do him a favor in the next several months as he deployed to Iraq and away from his family at home. "Be there for my dad like he was there for me," Beau asked.

The crowd at the DNC was there for Biden in Denver and they were there for him again Wednesday in Philadelphia. They chanted his name, they joined him on his journey. They embraced him as their outgoing vice president and as the man they'll always know as "Uncle Joe." And some of them still wondered, and hoped, what if?

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.

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Politics

Get the latest from the convention floor

By Roll Call Staff
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This wasn’t supposed to be Joe Biden’s night, at least not in the mind of the two-term vice president and former chairman of two major congressional committees.

Biden was supposed to be speaking tomorrow night, accepting the presidential nomination of a party grateful for his service to its goals and to President Barack Obama.

If anyone was in line for the Democratic presidential nomination, it was Biden. If anyone paid his or her dues, it was Biden. If anyone figured out how to roll with the evolution of the Democratic Party, from moderate to liberal to third way to progressive, it was Biden. If there’s anyone still eligible for the presidency who is best suited to rally Democrats on the campaign trail and cut deals with Republicans on Capitol Hill, it’s Biden. And if there’s anyone to whom President Obama owes unflinching loyalty, it’s Biden.

It’s not hard to imagine Biden accepting the Democratic nomination for president here in Philadelphia, less than an hour’s drive from his house in Delaware and not too far from his native Scranton, Pennsylvania. He would have been a returning prodigal son. What a story that would have been, from the hardscrabble upbringing to a lifetime of public service representing Delaware in Congress to a major party’s presidential nomination. It would be hard avoid getting caught up in the sentimentality of a Biden nomination — especially because virtually everyone who knows him roots for him.

He’s the antithesis of Hillary Clinton as a politician: Smooth, charming and oppressively likable. If he stretches the truth, no one cares. But, for a variety of reasons, he never gained traction in his presidential campaigns.

[ Joe Biden and Others Who Coulda Been a Contender ]

There are few things Biden wanted more than the presidency. And there can be little doubt that he still thinks he should be the one accepting the party’s nomination on Thursday night. But he also knows that he had a much better chance of playing spoiler — of splintering Clinton’s coalition — than of defeating both her and Bernie Sanders. The threat of that was real enough to keep Clintonworld up at night last fall and to factor into Biden’s decision not to run.

By the time he sat down to take a hard look at the 2016 campaign, Clinton had already locked up so much support within the party that it would have been hard for him to build a credible operation. Part of that was the suspension of Biden’s decision-making when his son Beau died, but part of it was simply Clinton’s preparation and hard work in assuming command of the party machinery. (It's been reported that Beau Biden wanted him to run.)

So, Biden did what was best for Clinton, best for himself and best for the party. He didn’t complain publicly that the White House, including Obama, refused to help position him for the presidency. There was no visible sulking when White House officials declined to identify him as a favorite of the president or even push back hard on the idea that Obama had twice told the nation Biden was the next-best person to be president and didn’t feel that way heading into 2016.

He conducted himself with honor and redefined loyalty, even in the face of Obama’s tacit betrayal. A two-term vice president has every right to feel entitled to the support of the president — however tepid — when the administration is coming to an end. Not Biden. He had been cut out by the marriage of the Obama and Clinton political worlds.

Despite all his years of service and loyalty, Biden drew the short straw this year — a Wednesday night speaking slot in which he’s sure to make the case for Clinton, even though he certainly believes he’d make a better president.

[ One Last Hurrah for Joe Biden? ]

Democrats will cheer him heartily, handing him the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award rather than a shot at the presidency. They will recognize his service as they put a capstone on a political rise that began the year that Richard Nixon was re-elected to the presidency.

Their applause will be bittersweet for Biden. But he should bask in it. He did what Clinton always says she wants to do: all the good he could, by all the means he could, at all the times he could and in all the places he could.

Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is co-author of the New York Times-bestselling Clinton biography “HRC” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 15 years.

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