It’s impossible to overestimate the impact of the vision of a woman standing on stage accepting the nomination of a mainstream party to run for President of the United States of America.
Hillary Clinton capped a tumultuous two weeks in American politics by doing just that at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday evening.
Introduced by her daughter Chelsea, there was a palpable sense of history in the making, not just in the convention center, but also on the TV news networks (even over at Fox), on social media, and in households and workplaces throughout the land – and probably many other parts of the world too.
APCO Worldwide’s founder and executive chairman Margery Kraus was moved to email her whole firm to say: "After working more than 50 years, often as the only woman in the room, I can’t let this moment in history pass without comment. Tonight the United States has heard from Hillary Clinton, the first woman candidate for President from a major U.S. political party. Irrespective of politics, you cannot ignore the significance of this long overdue but incredible milestone."
Kraus continued: "I can identify with the struggles she has faced and the odds stacked against supporting a woman for the highest office in the country. And as she accepts this tremendous honor and responsibility, it is great to be reminded that ‘where there is no ceiling, the sky’s the limit.’"
That last sound bite from Clinton’s speech drew particularly large cheers from the audience in Philly last night. And so it should have. It will also resonate strongly with the PR industry, which is 70% populated by women.
Clinton is not a great orator in the style of her husband Bill (her "explainer-in-chief"), President Barack Obama, or even First Lady Michelle Obama, but she delivered a solid speech that delivered on a number of levels. She landed some good shots on her opponent Donald Trump, lacing the blows with humor – "He spoke for 70-odd minutes… and I do mean odd" – and real substantive policy detail that was sorely lacking from Trump’s rhetoric in Cleveland last week.
The moment when Clinton became the first woman to be nominated was not lost on the TV anchors on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, especially the female reporters. Even Newt Gingrich acknowledged the history of the moment and the solidity of the performance on Hannity, before reverting to his usual attack dog mode.
Fox’s Megyn Kelly has struck up an appealing mode of banter with Hannity, who she handed over to after Clinton’s speech, gently mocking her colleague for his intransigent approach to issues in general and his specific refusal to acknowledge the significance of last night’s acceptance. And Hannity was soon hammering away at his old staples of Benghazi, the email security issue, Clinton Foundation, and the Clinton Cash film that is out now – and bullying and talking over guests who disagreed with his views.
After two weeks of politics being under the microscope at the Republican and Democratic conventions a number of conclusions can be drawn:
1/ You won’t change Sean Hannity’s views on anything anytime soon. Or his Fox News colleague Bill O’Reilly, who had a severe senior moment on Tuesday responding to Michelle Obama’s reflection that she and her family were living in a house built by slaves. "Slaves that were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government," according to O’Reilly. So that’s alright then…
2/ Politics aside, from a pure presentation and communications standpoint, the Democrats laid on a superbly managed event, stage-crafted and scripted to the max, with an array of excellent orators and emotional moments such as last night’s tearjerker from the father of a Muslim-American soldier who was killed in Iraq serving his country. The communications folks and speechwriters involved can be justifiably proud of their work.
3/ The convention was nearly scuppered before it started by the leak of 20,000 emails last Friday from the Democratic Party’s servers distributed on WikiLeaks that showed anti-Bernie Sanders bias by the DNC and party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She was stood down from her duties and from presiding over the convention. It gave further fuel to the Bernie brigade and it was ironic the protests that failed to materialize at the RNC in Cleveland last week were actually more prevalent in Philly. There were sporadic breakouts in the conference hall too, including during Hillary Clinton’s speech Thursday night.
4/ The Republican Convention was a more ragtag and bobtail event, not unexpectedly given the outsider status of the candidate and the fact the party establishment stayed away. But Donald Trump stayed on script for the most part in his keynote presentation last Thursday and the party still received a bump in the polls this week. Trump was back to his free-forming ways on Friday during a joint presser with running mate Mike Pence, who barely got a look in (and was probably quite happy about that.)
5/ The final data is not collated yet, but the Democrats are expected to have scored bigger TV ratings this week, which suggests they will get an even bigger bump in the polls next week than Trump did this week.
In the final analysis, however, and despite all the hoopla, soul searching, and primetime TV hours expended, the conventions will soon be forgotten and the fight for the undecided voter will move elsewhere.
The first of three head-to-head debates between Trump and Clinton starts at Hofstra University in Long Island on September 26, and this fight will go all the way to Election Day on Tuesday, November 8. You could tell by the Democrats’ exhortations to "vote, not boo" that they are certainly not taking anything for granted – this one will be close.
For all the carefully constructed communications strategies, finely honed speeches, and stage-crafted events, many voters in this election are being swayed by much more visceral, gut reactions, and there is a severe strain of discontent throughout the country Trump is tapping into whatever he says or does.
But one image will sustain way beyond the 2016 election and will be enshrined in the history books forever – the moment a woman accepted the nomination from her party for the highest political office in the United States for the first time, 96 years after (white) women were granted the right to vote in 1920.
As Margery Kraus concluded: "Whatever your political persuasion or gender or nationality, let’s savor the moment and this tipping point in history."