For me, the best speech of the night was Chelsea Clinton. The point for any child of a candidate speaking at a national convention is to personalize their parent. And hers was a gracious, charming, thoughtful, pointed and substantive speech that ran circles around all the Trump children combined. And all the time she spoke, I kept thinking, "This is who Rush Limbaugh demeaned when she was just 12 years old."
To be clear, I didn't think the Trump children gave bad speeches. They were better than I expected. Ivanka's was even a Democratic speech, espousing liberal causes for her father that he's never held. And the two sons gave well-presented political speeches. But anyone can give a political speech. Only a child can tell us about their father or mother. And that was vastly missing at the RNC. Not with Chelsea Clinton. And the camera cutting to watch her beaming father only added to it.
But that was prelude to the Main Event.
Hillary Clinton is not an orator. She will never be confused with an orator. She's said in the past that she's not a natural politician like her husband, who can glad-hand any stranger he meets. Further, she had the task of following some soaring speeches throughout the week -- most notably President Obama and Michelle Obama, along with Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren. So, I wasn't expecting great oratory -- and didn't get it. Yet with its flaws, I also found it effective and did its job well. Which I'll explain...
As always, I looked at the speech as much as possible from three perspectives: the room, the opposition and the undecideds.
Starting with the opposition, I'm sure they hated it. I'm sure they hate pretty much anything that Hillary Clinton says. I'm sure they even hated when she praised the U.S. military, a long-held line out of the GOP playbook. But then, I'm also sure they had a hard time with it because so much of what she said about what's great about America they not only believe in, but have been trying to throw in the face of Democrats for half a century since they yelled at the damn Hippies about America to "Love it, or leave it." It was that kind of a convention for Democrats: watching the Republicans drop the ball with feel-good flag-waving and picking it up and running with it, handing the baton off to Hillary Clinton. And I'm sure Republicans hated everything they heard from her, but were stuck at what to complain about. (An editor of the Far Right Townhall.com tweeted how shameful it was that Hillary Clinton wasn't wearing a flag lapel pin. Forgetting the utter surface emptiness of the complaint, the reality is that neither John McCain, either of the Bushes or Bob Dole wore flap lapel pins in their acceptance speeches. But that's how stuck Republicans were for expressing their hatred of the speech.)
As for how the speech played in the room, that was one of more important parts of it, since there was such a lingering hurt among Sanders supporters. And I think the speech must be looked at from the view that Hillary Clinton was addressing them, and -- if not trying to win them all over that night -- laying the groundwork for them to listen to her throughout the campaign and eventually get their support. If the speech became more liberal and partisan in parts, I think that was why. And I don't think it "won" the most fervid of them over. I don't think it ever could. They felt they were in a revolution. So, she may never win that far edge over. But I do think she went a long way into convincing these most-disaffected to at least not vote for Donald Trump as him being an kindred outsider like Sanders. (I don't think there were many, but I'm sure there were some.) More to the point, I think she convinced the bulk of the remaining wary-Sanders supporters to listen to her. And some of those even to support her. And that's significant, given the discord at the beginning of the week.
Which brings us to the undecideds. Again, I don't think Sec. Clinton convinced most of these people tonight to vote for her. But I do feel that most undecided voters are undecided because, as frightened or worried as some might be, they want answers to their concerns, they want solutions, they want things to work out. And this speech showed someone who was offering a positive vision and answers. Those listening might not yet have been convinced of that vision and all the answers, but they heard someone who had them. They did not hear that from Donald Trump. They only hear more fear-mongering. And as with Sanders supporters, this speech was about laying the groundwork to listen and be open to hearing more. And I thought it was extremely effective about that. Did it change "a lot" of votes, or will it? Maybe not, but remember: with undecided voters, you don't have to change "a lot." In elections where a 10-percent difference is a landslide, changing just 1-percent or 2-percent is a major achievement. And that strikes me as very likely from this speech.
The speech was reasonably well-presented. As I said, Hillary Clinton is not an orator, but in the morning I wrote elsewhere that my main hope was that she would learn a lesson from Donald Trump and not yell for 70 minutes. And she accomplished that. It's a low bar admittedly, but still an important one. When Hillary Clinton just talks, she's quite effective. She didn't "just talk" the whole time on Thursday, but did for a lot of the speech. And even when she let the vastness of the room wash over and carry her, her rising voice remained generally in control.
It was not eloquent, it was not soaring. No one should have expected that. But Hillary Clinton's strength is policy and detail, and the substance she brought to the speech had a growing, cumulative impact, and did so without being a boring wonk presentation -- along with enough pointed and specific and often sharp blasts at Donald Trump. And in the end, as she became the first woman in the history of the United States to be nominated as president by a major party, pretty darn remarkable, after 240 years, she succeeded with a reasonably strong, and quite effective speech directed at the audiences she had to address it to.
Indeed, after the speech, CNN showed the results of polls that had asked people who had watched both Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech and Donald Trump's acceptance speech about their response. For Hillary Clinton's, 71% had had a very positive reaction. And just 57% had a very positive to Donald Trump's.
That's significant. Not for changing anyone's vote, but laying the groundwork. This was all about laying the groundwork. Because there's a long road ahead.