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Week In Politics: The Democratic National Convention


And I'm Audie Cornish, wrapping up convention week here in Philadelphia. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post is with me here at our member station, WHYY. Hello there, E.J.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: And our other Friday regular, David Brooks of The New York Times, is speaking to us from NPR headquarters in Washington. Welcome back, David.


CORNISH: So we heard Tamara Keith mention all those American flags, and I want to talk images and symbolism. Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, tweeted this after - American exceptionalism and greatness, shining city on hill, founding documents, et cetera - they're trying to take all our stuff. David Brooks?

BROOKS: True, though they didn't really have to take it because Donald Trump walked away from it. He abandoned that ground by being less than patriotic, by sort of abandoning the normal Judeo-Christian values that the Republican Party stands for, by abandoning the hopefulness and the optimism that the Republican Party has traditionally - since at least since Reagan - stood for. And so he walked away from the ground. And so it was it was surrendered to the Democrats, who just had to walk up on the hill and just sit there. And it's theirs right now.

CORNISH: E.J., I want to highlight a speech that you mentioned, and that is by Khizr Khan. His son, a U.S. Army captain, was killed in Iraq in 2004. And he brandished this pocket-sized booklet copy of the U.S. Constitution, and he went after Donald Trump.


KHIZR KHAN: Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You'll see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing.

DIONNE: And I was so struck when he also said, have you even read the Constitution - directed to Donald Trump. I have a copy here with me, said this Muslim-American whose son died serving his country. I thought it was the most powerful attack on Trump at the whole convention. That sounds like a big thing to say, but it just sent so many messages at once. And it really was about Trump and his brand of Republicanism walking away from the America that exists and walking away from the America based on an idea, and not blood or soil or ethnicity or religious commitment.

And that's why it was possible for Democrats to occupy all that American ground. You have more flags there than you see at an American Legion convention. And it was extraordinary to hear the USA, USA chant, which I think sent a powerful message, even though it was also used to drown out some of the Bernie - the handful of Bernie supporters who were jeering but it sent a real message about Clinton is trying to create Clinton Republicans the way Ronald Reagan created Reagan Democrats.

CORNISH: Clinton Republicans, OK. I'm going to hold you to that in a few months. We're going to check that out. But I want to get to the nominee herself - underscore herself. Obviously this was a historic moment, but when Hillary Clinton gave her acceptance speech, she sought to essentially reestablish her biography in the eyes of voters.


HILLARY CLINTON: The truth is, through all these years of public service, the service part has always come easier to me than the public part. I get it, that some people just don't know what to make of me. So let me tell you.

CORNISH: David Brooks, what did this speech do for you?

BROOKS: It was sort of a B speech. I mean, there were so many great speeches at the convention. It's noteworthy that I thought the two weakest were given by the two candidates. And it's - it was not a disaster by any means, but I do think people should wonder about what it will mean for a presidency. Next time you see Hillary Clinton on TV, I would turn off the volume and look at her face. It's the face of someone very guarded, and I can't think of a president we've had who's made less of an emotional connection than Hillary Clinton regularly does. One of my heroes is a woman named Frances Perkins, who was secretary of labor under FDR, first woman in the cabinet. She had the same emotional guardedness, and she was...

CORNISH: Yeah, but what's the bar here? I mean, President Obama was known for being cool, right - almost too cool.

BROOKS: Not this cool. Obama has - was always able to make a connection. And it did hurt him. His aloofness did hurt him in the White House. And I mention Frances Perkins because, though she was a great, great, great secretary of labor - gave use Social Security and a lot of other stuff - her lack of ability, her desperate need for privacy meant she was friendless. And when times were tough in the secretary of Labor Department and other things, she was alone. And her administrative capacities were really hurt by her unwillingness to really trust her audiences and trust the public with any intimate view of her.

DIONNE: You know, it's funny you say that because I think one of the things Hillary Clinton will never be is alone because, while she is awkward in public at times - although I thought that performance last night was this rather calm presentation of someone who was in control, which I think was very important. But she is someone who has loyalists who, once they work for her, stay loyal forever. And I think that's a part of her that they still have not fully conveyed, but this convention made some progress in conveying it.

I thought the contrast, for example, between Chelsea's speech and some of the speeches given describing Donald Trump is that there were a lot of specifics here. There were real stories people could tell about Hillary Clinton. And as for that speech, I think it did a lot of work. And I could tick off about 10 things it did, but we don't have time for that, but I was struck. She is going to go after the working-class vote - white, black and Latino. And she really reached out to Bernie Sanders in a very important and interesting way.

CORNISH: It's sort of - your point there gets to my next question, actually, and so I'll start with David. Looking ahead this next hundred days or so and coming out of these conventions, what do these campaigns need to accomplish? Like, what are they - how did they set themselves up for going forward?

BROOKS: Well, I'd say, for the Trump campaign, the one thing they've really, completely lost is their core argument. They were trying to portray themselves as the nationalists and the Democrats as the globalists. The Democrats have completely established themselves as the patriotic nationalists. So Trump has no argument anymore. He has to somehow re-establish something. For me, Clinton has to re-establish some connection with suburban, middle-class voters. And so she basically has some - the trade thing, I think, is damaging with those voters. She has to show she has some basic trust in the workings of capitalism, even if she doesn't want to give more people access to it.

CORNISH: E.J., to you.

DIONNE: I think, fundamentally, she needs to continue the themes that were set by this convention - not only by her, but by her husband, by President Obama, especially. She needs to stay on the attack on Trump, but in interesting ways, which she managed. Trump needs self-control, which I do not think he'll ever get. He came out in the middle of this convention and essentially invited the Russians to find Hillary Clinton's emails. This raises enormous problems for him, whether it's treason or not. And I think that he has sent out a wave of tweets today - angry tweets. Hillary Clinton said we can't trust somebody with a nuclear button who can be taunted with a tweet. That was devastating.

CORNISH: That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Have a good weekend.

BROOKS: You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.