The focus of the opening days of the Democratic National Convention was unity – speakers from comedian Sarah Silverman to Bernie Sanders himself openly called for the Sanders camp to support nominee Hillary Clinton. Even first lady Michelle Obama gave a veiled call for Democrats to put differences aside in her speech on Monday night, when she applauded how Mrs. Clinton herself dutifully toed the party line after her primary defeat in 2008.
But on the convention's third night, when speakers included President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and vice presidential hopeful Sen. Tim Kaine (D) of Virginia, the call expanded past the party: If Night 1 was about unity within the party, it could be argued that Night 3 emphasized an appeal to potential swing voters outside of it.
That message was inserted in the addresses given by Senator Kaine, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Mr. Obama himself, although each in a distinctive way.
Obama’s bid for Republican attention was subtle. As the president pushed back against Republican nominee Donald Trump’s doom and gloom narrative, he spoke about his own experience of having “faith in America” and his optimism about the future of the country. Along the way, he slid in a reference to former Republican president Ronald Reagan.
Obama both drew a parallel between his own optimism and Reagan’s, while contrasting Mr. Trump with the beloved Republican leader, who passed away in 2004 but was considered a tone-setter for the party.
“Ronald Reagan called America ‘a shining city on a hill,’ ” Obama said last night. “Donald Trump calls it 'a divided crime scene' that only he can fix.”
Kaine, too, used this Republican “greatest hits” tactic – reaching even further back into GOP history. In his half-hour speech – his first major address since being added to the Clinton ticket last week – Kaine made the expected call to the Bernie camp and the requisite jabs at the GOP opposition. But the vice presidential nominee also included a very candid call to Republicans whose values may not align with the party’s current direction.
“If any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln, we’ve got a home for you right here in the Democratic Party,” Kaine said, referring to the proud history of the Republican party, who despite current accusations of being fueled by white supremacy under Trump, was once the party that elected the man who ended American slavery.
And to underline the point that Republicans – and independents – can and should vote for Clinton, former mayor Bloomberg took the stage last night with a call to arms. Mr. Bloomberg ran for New York City mayor on a Republican ticket in 2001, although he had been a Democrat in the past, but then reregistered as an independent in 2007.
As a product of Wall Street wealth, Bloomberg is not the stereotypical Democrat, yet he may be representative of a shift in the democratic identity – a shift that moves the Democrats from a party of the people to a party of the wealthy. An analysis published in Slate unpacked this idea, citing a report out of nonpartisan think tank New America that posits that the rich now vote Democrat. The report points to the fact that Obama took home more voters with salaries of $220,000 plus than his rival – the first time that had happened since 1964.
And partisan-hybrid Bloomberg, who backed Clinton after considering a run himself, called voters to join him “not out of party loyalty” but out of love of country – and economy. In laying out his case against Trump, he appealed to Americans' money sense.
“He would make it harder for small businesses to compete, do great damage to our economy, threaten the retirement savings of millions of Americans, lead to greater debt and more unemployment, erode our influence in the world, and make our communities less safe,” Bloomberg told the convention.
While these calls outside the party lines were aired on center stage last night, they were still underlined by an emphasis on party unity (Kaine went so far as to say “We all should feel the Bern.”) But both the appeals for intra-party unity and cross-partisan votes share a similar theme – yes, they reflect votes of confidence for Clinton, but they are also very much ascribing to another kind of rhetoric, one that may fall more along the lines of the age-old adage, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”