Donald Trump was not the focal point of last week’s RNC. Instead, for four days, an endless barrage of C- and D-list speakers made the case that Hillary Clinton had betrayed her country before and would do it again, this time from the Oval Office; that she had left soldiers to be slaughtered overseas and had callously opened borders at home so civilians could be murdered by a horde of undocumented immigrants; that the only way to stop her was to not only defeat her in November, but to actually lock her up.
The Democrats are also fielding a historically unpopular candidate, so they also had a strong incentive to unite the party by talking about how bad the other person is. And there was certainly a lot of Donald Trump hate on display during the DNC’s first day. In contrast to the RNC, it was a slickly produced and well-structured night, peppered with videos throwing Trump’s own words back at him. The case against Trump was often made emotionally: The strongest speeches by civilians, for instance, were about how a Trump presidency would uproot families and tear them apart. But there were no one-note speeches: Everything had some light and some shade.
The most powerful example of this balanced strategy was Michelle Obama’s moving and masterful speech, but it was also somewhat of an outlier, partly because Trump’s name was never mentioned and partly because it was just so damn good. More typical was Bernie Sanders’s make-or-break address to his holdouts, which closed the evening. Sanders could have simply pointed to a picture of Donald Trump, made a face, and gotten off the stage. But instead, he built a methodical case for why Clinton was the only choice for the job. He reminded people that the minimum wage matters, that the Supreme Court matters, that incarceration matters, and that Hillary Clinton is the only person who can make any progress on those fronts.
“Stronger together” was the overriding theme of the first night: Every speaker made the case that progress was being made and that the only way to continue making progress was to unite behind Hillary Clinton. The Democrats may be fielding a broadly unpopular candidate, but they’re not running away from her.