Hello and welcome to this late night reaction edition of the 538 Politics Podcast. I'm Galen Druken.
We just wrapped up night three of the Democratic National Convention during which we heard speeches from prominent women within the party. We heard from former President Barack Obama and then, of course, vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris accepted the nomination and gave a speech, her first marquee speech of the campaign. Also, the Democrats highlighted voters stories about gun violence, the environment, immigration. So let's break down the night. And here with me to do that is managing editor Michael Cohen.
Hello. Thanks for having me. It's been a minute. Good to see you.
It's it's a wonderful, wonderful thing to be back. I missed everyone so incredibly.
And also here with us is politics editor Sarah Frost and said, hey, Sarah. Hey, Caitlyn. Let's start with Harris's speech, which ended the night. What was her job in that speech? And also just looking backwards a little bit, what has the reaction been to her selection as the VP nominee so far?
Harris's nomination for the vice presidency was just announced last week. And really there haven't been any massive news stories to emerge from that other than, you know, how to Trump initially react. He got on Fox News and said some very inflammatory things about her candidacy and that, you know, took up some of the news cycle. But in terms of Harris herself and her credentials, because she ran in the primary and was so thoroughly vetted, then there hasn't really been anything that has emerged yet, including both like her background as a prosecutor that was something well known about her and her candidacy, but hasn't really received a lot of renewed scrutiny at this point.
But I think part of the issue in all of this was Biden said he was going to announce a woman back in March. And so I think, you know, the media being impatient as we are, people were restless by the end and were clamoring to know what woman what kind of woman there was bickering then between is it Harris is at best, what does it say about one if he picks Harris and not best. But at this point, you know, Americans overall, they have supported Biden's decision to pick a woman.
That's what the polls show. And they seem to also like Harris, her favor. Polls aren't bad. And tonight she reintroduced herself to the American public.
I think that's right. Sarah's getting at the first thing you want out of the VP pick is do no harm. And Biden has gotten that in Harris tonight. Specifically, I think her job, Nate was making this point on the live blog, but it seemed like her job was introduce herself, as Sarah said, but then also start to make the case that she's ready to step in on day one. You know, as the cliche goes into the presidency, her resume suggests she is.
But but in terms of what does she look like on the national stage? How does she appear to people and feel to people? I think that seemed like what what the Biden campaign was was going for. She had a tough, tough task tonight following Obama being in an empty auditorium. So it's like I think you have to judge it on a curve. But she certainly didn't there were no no big flubs or anything like that. So I think Harris did it perfectly well tonight.
Yes. Some of the commentary on the live blog was that the speech fell a little flat or relied on a lot of cliches. You know, she was trying to touch on a lot of different things during that speech. Is that just ultimately what a general election candidate looks like? You kind of want to make everyone happy and not piss anyone off. So it all kind of becomes a little bland, or is it more about who Harris is as a candidate?
I think it's both of those things.
I mean, I wonder a little bit, really. I thought the video montage in trowing Harris was pretty well done.
And I just think, you know, as political reporters or editors, we sometimes look at things to particularly and in terms of like, OK, what did this speech cover? What did it not cover when really I think a lot of people maybe were maybe maybe the video montage format mattered more than the actual speech.
That's what I was going to say, is just that was where you got to see her background, her her sister, who was also her campaign manager during the primary, her daughter, her husband. And I think that's been the more powerful and successful elements of this new virtual format. I mean, you know, it's both weird for the party to be doing this in real time. And then also the media corps kind of covering it in real time because some things were.
And then some things do feel, I think, inherently a little stilted then when Harris is accepting the nomination and, you know, Biden and his wife joined her out on stage with her husband, but it just you are constantly being reminded of what is not happening in terms of like an auditorium full of thousands of people. And I think it's just how do you deliver a speech? You know, she had that line right, about the virus has no eyes.
It knows exactly how we see each other and how we treat each other. And there's not a vaccine for racism. Right. Like you could see in a packed auditorium where the new Segway into the protests of the summer and what the Democratic Party is going to do, that's different than Trump, how that resonates more and has feedback from the audience. I missed the feedback.
I think this is really the big unknown with with Harris isn't so much OK. How exactly did she do, you know, in her first big speech on the national stage as the VP nominee?
It's a bigger question about normally when we look at VP nominees, we just think, OK, as long as they don't screw something up, think Eagleton, think Palin, they really don't have that much effect on the election.
Maybe if they're from a crucial swing state, they could have a marginal effect to help their ticket.
Otherwise, it's really, you know, they become a nonstory within a week of becoming the nominee.
The big question with Harris is we've never had a woman of color as the VP nominee before. And so does she do anything to motivate black voters to motivate Indian American voters? Does she do anything to motivate women?
I think the research points to probably not. You know, there is research that shows having a black candidate on the ticket. It does have an effect for black voters. Right.
The same is true for other demographic groups, but that that research is all about the top of the ticket, the situation we're in, which is we have this, you know, relatively new senator, woman of color as a vice presidential nominee. We haven't we haven't had that before as a country. And so it is a little bit that's the big question, I think, although it's I don't know. I don't know if it's the one that will decide the election, but it's at least a big question.
As regards Harris, what is also unique about Harris is that she's decently known as far as VP choices go, and at least at this point, and I know that the Republican convention is next week and it'll be a task for Republicans to try to bring Harris down in her approval rating.
But right now, she is the only person on either of the party's ticket for the presidency who has a net positive approval rating. So Trump and Biden all have net negative approval ratings. And on top of that, as you mentioned, the Democratic Party in polls basically says we're happy with Harris as a pick. And as we've talked about on this podcast this week, it's a party that has a lot of competing forces going on. And so kind of making everyone happy is somewhat of a tall order.
And so, you know, it's do no harm. But I guess there's a question here of what can she actually be an asset, which is what you were saying about turning out voters who might have otherwise not turned out as with a lot of things with elections, the sample sizes tiny and for such a situation as we're in now, the sample size is zero. So we're going to learn a lot from this process as well. You know, looking back at the speeches before Harris, you mentioned, Michael, that she had to follow Obama, which was something of a historical speech in the sense that we usually don't have former presidents who are that critical and that involved in tearing down an incumbent president.
Sarah, what was that speech like?
Obama had to do two things in that speech, right? He had to both stress and build on, I think, a message that the Democrats have really been leaning into since Monday, which is it's imperative that people vote this election. Right. And they I mean, Harris opened the night saying that he reiterated that multiple times in his speech. His wife did that on Monday as well. It's something that I think, you know, Biden will stress tomorrow as well.
But the second part of his speech, in addition to stressing the importance and tying that to how Trump then is an existential threat to democracy, something he said countless times in the speech, driving that home was then also building up Biden right in building up the Obama Biden administration that he was a part of that he led and using that as an opportunity to then say, well, Biden is the best man for the job in this and taking down the substantial threat that Trump poses.
I thought that was difficult to hit both well, but he did, I think, connect with the audience in terms of being he's often there is this. Hope that he's Spock and doesn't give a lot of personality, but there was a moment where it looked like he was tearing up this evening, as you were saying, Galen, I think he was emphatic in saying that, you know, Trump in these last four years show that he's simply unqualified for the job.
That, again, has been a recurring theme as well that multiple speakers have hit on throughout the convention. Put the substance aside for a second.
It is stunning to me that that the Obamas are just so good at public speaking.
Michelle Obama and Barack Obama gave very different speeches in terms of format, but they are both.
They were the two best delivered speeches so far. By some distance, I think you'd have to say, again, putting substance aside, whether you agree or disagree with them.
The other thing that stood out to me about Obama's speech and and this characteristic it shared with Michelle Obama's speech was the extent to which they targeted voters who are disenchanted with politics, apathetic about politics, or just like kind of fed up and and think their vote doesn't matter.
I think that's geared towards black voters in particular, just coming from the Obamas.
You have to think, given how the vote played out in 2016, where you saw black turnout depressed in some areas, maybe the Biden campaigns feel like, OK, the Obamas can help us here. But actually, more generally, you know, there are so many ways in which, like the moderate middle, quote unquote, is really a myth in the sense that, like, if you look at how socially conservative are they, how economically conservative are they, people who are actually swing voters are all over the freakin place.
They're socially conservative and economically liberal. There are socially liberal and economic conservatives. That's that one's rare, but you know what I mean. They're they're all over the place. Right.
One thing they do share, though, more than those other traits is. They don't like politics. I mean, Michelle Obama said this straight out, right? She said, I don't like politics. You know, I don't like politics. Obama came at it more from like. There was a section of speech where he was like the message was basically you think you're fed up with politics, you know, think about previous generations who didn't even have the platform limited as it might be that you do.
Now, think about how fed up they could have been.
And yet they they persisted to use that phrase. Right. So that to me is interesting. And I would I think it's going to be a theme down the stretch run of the campaign of the Biden the Biden campaign going after people who are who are just kind of fed up.
The reason I think that's interesting is I think from the Biden campaign's point of view, if you're looking OK, who who is going to vote for us or who might vote for us and what reasons would they have not to vote for us?
I think they feel that basically coronavirus the economic collapse.
Trump has given people plenty of reasons not to vote for him.
And one of the few reasons left that people who are who would be open to voting for Biden are not voting for buiding is like apathy or being disenchanted.
And so I think that explains why they're so kind of laser focused on that group.
Yeah. And as you mentioned, Sarah, before, there was a lot of let me actually talk about the mechanics of voting. The night started with Harris war and talked about the mechanics of voting. Obama talked about the mechanics of voting. So it's clearly being put front and center of that's the thing that we're here to encourage you to do.
Yeah, no, I mean, Clinton also made that the center point of her speech, which was kind of you know, I think her speech this evening was always going to be difficult as the former nominee of the party, who then, of course, lost to Trump in 2016, but yet was a historic nomination in its own right as the first woman nominee in this country.
But in terms of what Michael was saying to I guess the one thing I don't quite follow in this appeal to those who are, you know, maybe apathetic about the election or disengaged with it, is Democrats drilling down enough in why it's imperative that people vote for them? And I realize part of the convention is you're speaking to other members in your party.
Right. But tonight, for instance, they pivoted more to here's what we're doing on the environment or here's what we would do on gun control.
But it felt such a flashback to everything prior to the pandemic that I feel like especially with this virtual format being so effective in talking with ordinary people and how they've been impacted by the pandemic, I was expecting, I think, a little bit more of that and tying in to the reasons why you can't be apathetic this year because so much is at stake as opposed to walking through other planks of the policy platform.
Yeah, I know that's a really interesting point. We have heard a lot of mentions of coronavirus, but there hasn't been a kind of walk through necessarily of this is what a coronavirus world looks like, except if Democrats are in control. And so I want to talk about a little more of what went on tonight from the policy portion and some of the other speakers. But first, today's podcast is brought to you by upstart.
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What are Democrats pitching as what they have to offer in opposition or as opposed to Trump's leadership? Mike, what did you see in that tonight?
Yeah, I'm not sure what the right balance is for Democrats. Part of me wants to say anti Trump sentiment is enough. So I thought that in 2016, though, and and clearly it wasn't enough.
Now, maybe a lot of people didn't think Trump would win. There was a lot of, I think, gendered opposition to the Democratic nominee, with Biden, with Trump now in the White House, those factors are removed. So maybe anti Trump sentiment is enough. I do think Democrats made some efforts maybe just to cover their bases, but to say, OK, we we are running on things. I mean, Hillary Clinton in her speech said there's a reason to vote for this ticket.
She said it explicitly and talked about health care and talked about, you know, living wages. So they're clearly thinking about that balance and trying to strike the right balance. I'm not sure what the right balance is, though.
I mean, it does go back a little bit to that to what we were saying about voters who are maybe apathetic, you know, could switch. Had a really good podcast recently about young black voters and the extent to which they had to be sort of convinced and still need convincing of Biden, whereas older black voters were Biden's base from the beginning in the primary.
So will anti Trump sentiment be enough in that demographic demographic group? Will it be enough for, you know, the cliche, suburban, white, suburban women? Maybe.
But if the answer is maybe not, then like, don't we have a lot of evidence that says people don't vote on policy? Like, is it going to be like what? You know, is it going to be Hillary Clinton mentioning Joe Biden's plan for X or Warren mentioning the plan for Y that convinces that said it?
Exactly. And so much of Biden's theory of the case in the primary was I'm the best person to take on Trump.
But I hear you, Mike, that given where that went in 2016, maybe Democrats are more cautious of that and want to employ the the twenty eighteen, you know, strategy of like let's talk about some policies that worked well for them taking back the House.
But it's not right. It's not 2016 or 2018. Right. So, yeah, a lot of the Democratic message has been has been Trump failed to prevent a pandemic. The economy is in shambles. Maybe it's time for a change. That's a pretty compelling message on the substance. If you don't believe that, look at the polls which show Biden winning handily, at least right now. There's plenty of time for that to change.
But it's not like in in 2016, it was like this anti Trump sentiment based all around the hypothetical and based purely in Trump himself. Right now, it's about all of that, plus what Trump has and has not done for the country. Right.
You heard that over and over and again that he you know, he he has not been the president. We need he can't be the president we need. So it's like it's a different anti Trump message and and maybe one that's dead at that, at least so far, has been more effective.
Yeah. In Obama's speech, he said, quote, This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that's what it takes to win. He also said, quote, Donald Trump hasn't grown into the job because he can't, you know, and that this is one more reality show to get the attention he craves. So, yes, this is something of a throwback to 2016 and having an anti Trump message. But as you mentioned, slightly different as well.
Another throwback to the trends of 2016 is that there is currently a massive gender gap. And Democrats spoke to that pretty openly tonight. They featured a lot of prominent women within the party, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, as we've already mentioned. So what is the current dynamic when it comes to the gender gap and how different people are are perceiving this ticket?
Yeah, I mean, it's interesting, right? Because on the one hand, there's no such thing as like a woman's vote. Right. Meaning that women aren't just like one monolithic bloc that will back any one candidate. And they also, generally speaking, aren't necessarily going to. Vote for a woman just because she's on the ticket. That said, though, in a piece Amelia Thompson Devoe and Meredith Conroy did for the site this week, they looked back at both voter turnout data and who women and men had voted for since the 1940s.
And what they found is not only are women now more politically engaged than men, but they have also voted for Democrats consistently for the president since 1980. At that point, it was an eight point gap and it's just increased. So I think tonight that emphasis you saw on women in the party was echoing both the urgency that Democrats want women to turn out to vote this year. But then also like the continued importance and prominence of women within the party.
And this does go back to Harris for me. I mean, 538 contributor Michael Tessler made this point on the live blog that and this is what Amelia wrote about two has written about for the site, that in 2016 for women, gender wasn't activated as an identity.
You didn't see many women voting for Clinton because of that shared identity.
I think you did see to some extent, this is something we've talked about on the podcast, gender as an identity activity for men in 2016, where some of that anti Clinton Clinton sentiment did come down to gender. Which brings us back to Harris. Right.
To what extent does Harris activate any of those feelings?
Shall we call them for men this time around?
Or is it the normal elections are about the top of the ticket, not the vice, not not the bottom of the ticket, and won't have one effect this way or that. Well, we'll have to see. You know, I think so far you haven't seen much evidence that like let me rephrase that.
I think so far and I think we've seen repeatedly that Trump is far more comfortable or at least he does it more often, attacking women, people of color and certainly women of color.
He hasn't really done that so far with Harris.
I think the Republicans have have you know, he he attacked Harris certainly in in and pretty controversial terms, but writ large. The Trump campaign and Republicans, I think, have been pretty jumbled in their messaging in terms of how they're going after Harris.
They're going after as you know, she's going to be pulling the strings and is is like, you know, a hardcore liberal or that she's like there's this discord between her.
And then it's just kind of like all over the place. But I don't know to what extent if I had a bet, I would just say that, you know, the gender gap in 2020 looks like a lot like it did in in 2016, but maybe just more lopsided.
And maybe you see, like, if Biden wins, it's going to be because among noncollege men, he lost by a little less. Among college women, he won by a little more. Right. It's like these marginal differences all across the board in these demographic groups. Yeah.
It's interesting that you say that it's almost a trope in election analysis that suburban women are these undecided voters. But in the Trump era, they're not right. They've decided that they don't like Trump and undecided voters this time around actually are more likely to be men. And I think part of the calculus for Democrats in prioritizing electability and the nominating, Joe Biden was making a pitch to that group of undecided voters, you know, men who basically prevented Hillary Clinton from taking advantage of the gender gap with women because they swung towards Trump in an equal and opposite direction.
And so. Right. Like it's not a huge help if you have a huge advantage with women, but then you have an equal disadvantage with men. So, yeah, I mean, I think it'll be really interesting to see how how that plays out this time around. Final thoughts as we head into the last night of the Democratic convention and thoughts on how this was all run overall. So far it's been hard, but also at points very powerful.
To start the night, Nate was saying he thought tonight was more important than the fourth night because, you know, the speech from the nominee can kind of fall flat because you have to go through the the regular motions.
I don't I don't know.
I mean, it hasn't for me. You know, people are saying overall they thought Democrats getting the swing of it. Now things are feeling more produced and powerful and pointed. It still has been this weird balance, though, of both needing. To do official party business like the roll call vote, which I thought was pretty effective last night, but then also having to do like, you know, the acceptance speech tonight for Harris, which was a little bit more difficult.
Right. Just given the optics and being in that empty auditorium.
And so I'm trying to look at this week, as you know, how are Democrats laying the case for why they should win the general election to both their own ardent party members, but also, you know, America writ large? Right. I think the format with some of these more digestible moments that are perfectly built for the social media era we all increasingly live in will live beyond the convention in a way that perhaps previous conventions haven't.
That said, I don't know how much appetite right now people if for instance, if what Mike is saying about, you know, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, they're both trying to speak to voters who are disengaged. I wonder if this is the type of information they need packaged in this way to help them feel engaged with the process. And I don't have an answer for what that would be. That would be better in this. But I I wonder then how this what the effect of all this will be for Biden, both in the polls, both followed next week by the RNC and how that will play together in this new format?
Yeah, I think it's such a good point. You know, even during most conventions and so far, the numbers for this convention have have been very low. But most people are not consuming the convention like we're consuming it. So I think our best bet is that this convention probably won't have much effect on the polls one way or the other, especially with the RNC coming, you know, a week later, like you were saying, Sarah, still for me, I think my main takeaways are I think the point about, you know, some of these pre produced videos with real people I think have been really effective.
I think Sarah is right. You'll see them everywhere over the next several weeks and months. Another takeaway is kind of what I was saying in the beginning, which is like there's just no substitute for star power. You know, Michelle Obama on night one. I think you know Barack Obama tonight.
But even like Bernie Sanders, Warren is just star power. It goes a long way in these conventions.
And then finally, you know how much of the cake is already baked with Biden on the ticket with some of these demographic groups we focused on. Once you put a white man on the ticket, is most of the cake already baked? And, you know, the rest is kind of marginal differences, which could end up mattering right in a close election. So so, so going into tomorrow night, I think Biden has a really tough job. Right, because it's like we've seen it's almost impossible to give a barnburner speech in a in a situation like this once you're once in a generation political talent and orations, not his skill.
Right. So I think it's really hard for him. Yeah.
So it's going to be really hard. He'll probably give a speech. You know, I think he'd be happy, frankly, if he gives a speech similar to houses tonight, how his speech was well delivered. It had some good moments, but it was by no means something that historians will write about or anything like that.
Right. Right. The challenge for the star speakers like Harris or Biden is that everyone else gets to have their role and gets to make a quote unquote argument. But when you're accepting the nomination, yeah, you're the argument. So then what are you going to say? You just kind of touch on every different aspect of a very diverse and complex party. And then at the end of it all, you get like you've touched all of the notes, but like, what's the thesis or what's the argument that you've established?
Look, there is an element of truth to one GOP line of attack attack on Biden, which is that, you know, they've criticized him for sort of like hiding out and and not campaigning more kind of front and center.
And there's an element of truth there, which is that like some of the most effective parts of the Biden campaign and of this convention are when someone else is doing the delivering right or the older video clips of Biden.
That's exactly what I see. Yeah, exactly. It's like or some of these old clips or the Prepackage cut together stuff. And so I think expectations will be pretty low for Biden. But then you kind of take a step back and think, you know. To say the pandemic is is horrible and in every respect, but in a weird way, it kind of helped help the Biden campaign out during this convention and in the campaign writ large, because the campaign is just way more effective when when Biden doesn't have to be the one sort of leading the the marching band.
All right. Well, let's leave things there. We will see what comes tomorrow night. But thank you, Mike. My pleasure. Great to be back. Great to have you back. And also. And thank you, Sarah. Thanks, Galen. And before we go, I want to give two shout outs, one to our colleagues at ABC News, who also have podcasts that are covering both conventions. That's the Powerhouse Politics podcast and these Start Here podcast.
So go check those out. And also a reminder to go check out the five thirty eight store at 538 dotcom slash store. I know since we don't have the conventions in person, we're missing a lot of the cool swag, the hats, etc. But you can find your swag at 538 dotcom slash story. That's my pitch for you. All right. My name is Gail and Drew. Tony Chow is in the virtual control room. You can get in touch by emailing us at podcasts at five 30 eCom.
You can also, of course, tweet us with any questions or comments. If you're a fan of the show, leave us a rating or review in the Apple podcast store or tell someone about us. Thanks for listening and we'll see you soon.