Donald Trump appears squarely focused on filling in the gaps of his electoral coalition with hopeless and betrayed supporters of self-described socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. Well, two can play that game. On Wednesday night, the Democratic National Committee struck a different tone from the first two days of programming. The note was a detectably centrist one. But what passes for centrism in the modern progressive-led Democratic coalition?
Billed as a night dedicated to national security, the early evening was devoted exclusively to warning about the threat posed by climate change and the need for stricter domestic gun control laws. As the evening drifted into prime-time, however, the program engaged more directly with the issue.
Though each of these speakers heaped plaudits upon Hillary Clinton, they did not reserve their praise for Democrats exclusively. Rear Adm. John Hutson delivered a defense of John McCain’s service record as strong and forceful as any offered by Republicans—maybe even more so. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made no bones about the threat posed by ISIS. He warned of precisely who their targets were—including a Catholic priest who this week had his throat slit during mass by an Islamist terrorist—and noted that this ideology and those who adhere to it must be stopped.
A rump anti-war contingent who booed both Hutson and Panetta—whereupon a much larger crowd of Democrats tried to silence those protesters with coordinated chants of “USA, USA.” Which convention was this?
“Crowd chanting ‘USA! USA!’” wrote Fox News Channel’s Shannon Bream. “Delegate in front of me stands up and yells, ‘Stop that! That’s a Trump chant!’” For the most part, however, this was a party far more comfortable with naked, unashamed patriotism and support for an extroverted military than Democrats had been in 2004, 2008, or even 2012.
Vice President Biden shed his role as cheerleader for the left and talked up the value of service to country and community—not in some civilian corps but as a police officer or an enlisted serviceman or woman. “His cynicism is unbounded,” Biden insisted of Trump. “No major party nominee in the history of this nation has ever known less or has been less prepared to deal with our national security.”
As for Barack Obama, he made an interesting choice: he severed Trump’s links to the Republican Party. “[W]hat we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican—and it sure wasn’t conservative,” the president began. “What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems—just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.”
Let’s make clear what kind of centrism this was. No one expressed any desire to curb on the party’s progressive agenda. This convention showcased a party committed to moving the nation and the culture to the left in almost every conceivable way. No, the centrism showcased on Wednesday night was really just optimism. It was one that nodded toward individual liberty and the legitimacy of small-r republicanism. “Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way,” Obama declared. “We don’t look to be ruled.” It took the nomination of a Donald Trump to make this fundamentally conservative point.
Anyone watching the convention in its entirety will not be fooled by the Democratic Party’s feint. But if this relatively modest rhetorical effort succeeds in securing a few disaffected Republican votes, the Republican nominee will have only himself to blame.