Bill Clinton's right-wing courtship: He works his magic at DNC to lure moderates and GOPers

Bill Clinton is laying out a new strategy for Democrats by hitting bi-partisan themes

Published July 27, 2016 7:45PM (EDT)

Bill Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 26, 2016.   (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)
Bill Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 26, 2016. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

PHILADELPHIA — After a fractious Monday at the Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton’s speech pivoted entirely away from the Bernie-or -Bust drama, hitting on almost entirely non-partisan themes, except when he discussed how Republicans worked with his wife, Hillary, the newly minted Democratic nominee.

Gushing about his wife’s “thick blond hair,” “white, flowery skirt” and “magnetic” charisma, Bill Clinton sought to humanize and sell his wife as a person first and a policymaker second. It was a sophisticated narrative that showed his political mastery and unveiled a new line of entry for Democrats: persuadable moderates and Republicans looking for an alternative to the Trump circus. Bill Clinton’s line of attack on Trump was different from Trump’s GOP rivals, who resorted to anger, satire and Trump-level ad hominem talk of small hands.

Last night, it was simply a man painting the picture of a responsible grown-up — his wife (who he said accomplished “more positive change-making before she was 30 than many public officials do in a lifetime in office”) — contrasted with a policy lightweight. Trump is seeking the naive Bernie absolutists, and the Clintons want the Jeb pragmatic realists. It’s no wonder that some Jeb Bush alumni and other GOP activists have launched “Republicans for Clinton.” That includes John Stubbs, a former Bush appointee and founder of, a group of Republicans for Clinton. Stubbs recently wrote that if Hillary gets support from #NeverTrump Republicans, she might move closer to the center in her politics:

“Clinton’s record of working with Republicans in the Senate suggests she would. Although she’s taken criticism for overstating her record of bipartisanship, she was hardly a partisan shill in the Senate. Sixty-eight percent of her bills had GOP co-sponsors. And she worked closely with such Republican lightning rods as Tom DeLay (adoption issues), Sam Brownback (human trafficking) and Jeff Sessions (veterans’ benefits) to pass legislation that mattered. Further, Clinton’s sometimes-close relationships with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey O. Graham suggest that their influence will lead to a more muscular foreign policy agenda than not only the current president’s but the GOP nominee’s as well.”

As Trump makes overtures to disgruntled Bernie Sanders fans — and there are plenty here in Philadelphia, with as much or more anti-Hillary signage inside the Wells Fargo convention arena than anti-Trump — Bill Clinton is courting #NeverTrump. Bubba himself is reportedly slated to campaign for his wife in the reddest of red states, Utah, where Republicans haven’t voted for a Democrat in 50 years. Utah Mormons are opposing Trump on moral grounds, seeing The Donald as morally bankrupt and frightfully anti-minority — which doesn’t sit well with Mormons whose ancestors suffered abuse at the hands of state and U.S. government.

Hillary Clinton's husband has always struck a more conciliatory tone, and last night he mentioned her work with DeLay on adoption.

“She wanted to do it because she knew that Tom DeLay, for all of our differences, was an adoptive parent and she honored him for doing that,” Bill Clinton said. “Now, the bill they worked on, which passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, led to a big increase in the adoption of children out of foster care, including non-infant kids and special-needs kids. It made life better because she’s a change-maker, that’s what she does.”

Bill Clinton also discussed his wife’s early years as a senator from New York, where in the age of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she became the first senator in the history of New York to serve on the Armed Services Committee.

“She also served on a special Pentagon commission to propose changes necessary to meet our new security challenges,” Bill Clinton said. “Newt Gingrich was on that commission, he told me what a good job she had done.”

In yet another nod to conservative outreach, Bill Clinton also discussed Hillary Clinton’s work as Secretary of State to pass sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program (her work was completely unraveled subsequently by the Obama administration’s flawed deal, but that’s another matter). Preventing a nuclear Iran is a passionate issue for pro-Israel conservatives who have felt anxious at Trump’s moral equivalency between the terrorists running Hamas and the liberal democracy of Israel.

“And in what The Wall Street Journal no less called a half-court shot at the buzzer, [Hillary Clinton] got Russia and China to support them,” Bill Clinton said in his speech. “Her team negotiated the New START Treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons and reestablish inspections. And she got enough Republican support to get two-thirds of the Senate, the vote necessary to ratify the treaty.”

By hitting bi-partisan themes, Bill Clinton is laying out a new strategy for Democrats, whose advertisements so far have been focused on bashing Trump rather than offering solutions.

One possible obstruction to Democratic #NeverTrump wooing could be Hillary Clinton herself, who often takes a far more strident tone against Republicans, harking back to her anger against a “vast right-wing conspiracy” during the Clinton impeachment and more recently in a 2015 debate claiming she’s proud that she made enemies of Republicans.

With so much anti-Hillary rhetoric here at the convention and Sanders making lukewarm overtures toward her, Hillary Clinton might want to rethink her approach. Last night, Bill Clinton laid out ways his wife had counseled him and, in this area, she might want to follow his lead.

By Carrie Sheffield

Carrie Sheffield is a Salon Talks host, founder of Bold and adviser to Lincoln Network. She previously wrote editorials for The Washington Times, covered politics for POLITICO and The Hill and analyzed municipal credit for Goldman Sachs and Moody's Investors Service.

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Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Dnc 2016 Elections 2016 Hillary Clinton