It was enough to make you want to vote for Donald Trump.
After a pitch-perfect setup to Hillary Clinton’s moment in the spotlight in Philadelphia; after a searingly effective talk by the father of a Muslim American soldier killed in combat; after a rousing patriotic address by Marine Corps Gen. John Allen that had a flag-waving crowd chanting “USA!, USA!;” after daughter Chelsea Clinton’s endearing tribute to her mother and a masterful Morgan-Freeman-narrated introduction film, Clinton stepped up to the microphone at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night and reminded millions of Americans why they struggle so mightily to like her.
This should have been an alley oop dunk. Instead, Clinton took the ball back to the line and shot akward free throws for 56 minutes. Her remarks felt twice that long. Trump, a week earlier, gave a barnburner of a populist speech in Cleveland. It was thin, alarmist, hyperbolic — and effective. His went 20 minutes longer, but it felt far shorter than hers.
Clinton didn’t need to do a lot on Thursday. The case for her — the case against Trump — had been carefully laid out over four days by other speakers. All she had to do was appear gracious and likable. She had to show humility and warmth, and reaffirm some basic American principles that Trump has trampled on so often and so gleefully.
Instead, Clinton gave a laundry-list of a speech that screamed “politician” from the outset. It was at times pedantic, at times lecturous and it was disingenuous throughout. Listening to the Wall Street-funded candidate rail against Wall Street money, greed and a free-trade agreement that she championed a year ago was like listening to nails across a chalkboard. It was pure . . . Clinton.
I’m sure lots of people liked Clinton’s speech. She gave shout-outs to every possible aggrieved demographic. If you have a pet issue, chances are she touched upon it. But this wasn’t supposed to be a State of the Union address or a stump campaign speech. This was supposed to be a crowning moment. It was supposed to be a historic night for women. What it actually felt like was more of the same, and that’s the worst possible takeway in a “change” year like this one.
Clinton will almost certainly get a post-convention boost in the polls, just as Trump did after the Republican National Convention. A week of wall-to-wall TV coverage will do that. But when things settle out, the polls will likely settle back to just about where they were before the conventions, with Clinton and Trump roughly tied or within the margin of error in the key battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Every carefully choreographed piece of the Democratic convention went as planned, right down to the constantly changing delegate message signs held high for the cameras. But after all that, at least to this American, Hillary Clinton came out of Philadelphia still missing the one essential ingredient for victory: A coherent message.
Trump’s convention was riddled with missteps. But no one could mistake what he wanted to say to Americans: I’ll restore America. Trust me.
Almost 70 percent of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average. With about 100 days left in the race, Clinton is positioned as Obama III. Trump is positioned as a bold change agent who will shake things up.
In whose shoes would you rather be?
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.