President Barack Obama will use his Democratic National Convention address to explain why his former rival-turned-secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is qualified to replace him in the Oval Office. He also will break with his usual practice and call out Donald Trump by name.
“You know, nothing truly prepares you for the demands of the Oval Office. Until you’ve sat at that desk, you don’t know what it’s like to manage a global crisis or send young people to war,” Obama will say, according to excerpts released by the White House.
“But Hillary’s been in the room; she’s been part of those decisions,” Obama will say. “She knows what’s at stake in the decisions our government makes for the working family, the senior citizen, the small business owner, the soldier, and the veteran. That’s the Hillary I know. That’s the Hillary I’ve come to admire.
“And that’s why I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America,” Obama will say.
It was a dozen years ago to the day that Obama, a little-know Illinois senator and U.S. Senate candidate, erupted onto the national stage with a powerful convention address, the year that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry received the nomination. But Wednesday night, White House officials say, he will deliver a speech almost exclusively about Clinton, his party’s presidential nominee.
“This speech is about Hillary Clinton. It’s not a speech about Barack Obama. It’s not a speech about Donald Trump,” a White House official told a small group of reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
The official cast the address as breaking with those traditionally delivered by second-term presidents, saying history shows they typically focus on their own legacies.
The president will repeat messages he has delivered in public in recent weeks, as a series of police-related shootings have gripped the country. One is that Americans are “better together,” a line that aligns closely with Clinton’s “stronger together” campaign theme.
“The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous. Sure, we have real anxieties,” he will say. “But as I’ve traveled this country, through all 50 states, as I’ve rejoiced with you and mourned with you, what I’ve also seen, more than anything, is what is right with America.”
The president told his staff weeks ago that he wants to be “one of the loudest voices out there making the case for Hillary Clinton,” the official said. He will attempt to sell her as someone who always fights for what she believes in, and a trusted ally.
“President Obama will talk about who she is as a public servant, and a secretary of state, and the Hillary Clinton that he knows,” the official said.
The address is about him “revealing an experience” that he had with Clinton the professional public servant, confidante, and person.
The White House official at one point mentioned that Obama wants to tell Democratic delegates and other voters that he “trusted” Clinton when she was America’s top diplomat. That could be key as the campaign tries to deal with her high unfavorable ratings — a recent Economist/YouGov poll found 60 percent of Americans viewed her as “not honest and trustworthy.”
During his first term, Clinton was among a handful of senior officials in the room as he made several difficult decisions on everything from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Middle East stability, and whether to launch the raid that killed al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden.
“There were only a few people at the table when [those] momentous decisions were being made,” the official told reporters.
The address, likely Obama’s last as president before an in-person and television audience as large, will not completely be about Clinton, however.
Obama will use themes from that 2004 DNC speech both at the start and the conclusion of his speech, with the communications aide saying he intends to “reflect” on those themes, and the last eight years. During his Boston address that year, Obama tried to dispel the notion of separate red states and blue states with polarizing politics and spoke hopefully of the United States of America.
Obama will also deliver what will be his latest call for national unity since the shootings, which have ripped open centuries-old racial wounds, began. “He continues to believe that people who are different from each other can find common ground,” the White House official said.
Like Clinton, Obama “believes this election is different,” the official said, which is why his final DNC address as president will not be a “point-by-point” policy lecture. Rather, he will tell Democratic delegates inside Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center that the choice between Clinton and Trump is “about who we are as a country.”
The president will break with his practice of referring to and criticizing the reality television star-turned-politician and his many vague — and unprecedented — policy pronouncements without using his name. In fact, Obama plans to call out Trump by name around a half dozen times.
The idea is for Obama to draw a stark contrast between Clinton and Trump, arguing that she has dedicated most of her adult life and career to helping others, while the New York businessman “is not a fighter for the people,” the official said.
The president will also criticize the GOP standard-bearer for basing his presidential bid on “fear instead of solutions.”
Obama and his top aides began discussing the speech in late June, with the writing beginning in earnest about three weeks ago. As of about 2 p.m. Eastern time, aides said the remarks were mostly final, though the president was still tinkering.
First lady Michelle Obama’s remarks to the convention on Monday night, during which she delivered an effusive endorsement of Clinton, got her husband’s attention.
“This election, and every election, is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four to eight years of our lives,” Michelle Obama said. “And I am here tonight because in this election there is … only one person who I think is qualified to be president. And that is our friend Hillary Clinton.”
Barack Obama watched her address, which was interrupted time and again by loud applause, from the White House. He then stayed up until 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning working on his own speech.
The president is also expected to salute Clinton’s primary foe, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who on Tuesday took to the convention floor to dramatically throw his full support behind her nomination and general election bid.
In many ways, the president’s convention address will formally begin his handover of power to the next commander in chief. The White House official acknowledged Wednesday afternoon that he views Clinton, now the party’s presidential nominee, as its new “torch bearer.”