Report

Democrats Say the World Is Too Dangerous for a President Trump

Obama and other Democratic heavyweights take aim at the GOP front-runner's dystopian vision of the United States — and say Trump is the real threat.

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PHILADELPHIA — The dueling conventions here and in Cleveland have made two things clear: Republicans and Democrats agree that the American people face real and growing threats to their safety, but they sharply disagree about where those threats come from.

That difference came through clearly Wednesday in a series of fiery speeches by an array of the Democratic Party’s biggest stars, including Vice President Joe Biden; Hillary Clinton’s newly minted vice presidential nominee, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine; and President Barack Obama. Republicans spent their convention arguing that the biggest risks came from violent criminals, undocumented immigrants, and radical Muslims within the United States. Democrats, by contrast, argued that the biggest dangers — from the Islamic State to al Qaeda — come from overseas.

The Democratic speakers didn’t much mention the recent spate of deadly attacks against police officers, a central theme of last week’s Republican convention, or reference the allegedly rising rates of violent crime that Donald Trump used as a key talking point in his acceptance speech in Cleveland. When the Democrats mentioned immigration, it was to paint a positive portrait of an America open to those seeking better lives, not a dystopian vision of a country besieged by rapists and murderers streaming across the border from Mexico.

Instead, the Democrats returned to a single line of attack: Trump’s admiration for strongmen like Russian President Vladimir Putin, stated willingness to abandon longtime allies in Europe and Asia, and casual talk of embracing torture and using nuclear weapons against the Islamic State mean that he is fundamentally unsuited to be president.

“He cozies up to Putin, praises Saddam Hussein, and tells the NATO allies that stood by our side after 9/11 that they have to pay up if they want our protection,” Obama said of the GOP nominee. “Well, America’s promises do not come with a price tag. We meet our commitments. We bear our burdens.”

Trump, Obama added, is “just offering slogans, and he’s offering fear.”

“He’s betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election.” Obama said. “That is another bet that Donald Trump will lose.”

Another speaker, the billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, mocked Trump’s self-proclaimed business acumen and, departing from prepared remarks, said the country needed a “sane and competent” person in the Oval Office.

“I’ve built a business, and I didn’t start it with a million-dollar check from my father,” Bloomberg said. “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business. God help us.”

Putin was the big red elephant in the room Wednesday, with a multitude of Democratic speakers using Trump’s warm words about the autocratic Russian leader against him.

“We cannot elect a man who exploits our fears of ISIS and other terrorists, who has no plan whatsoever to make us safer, a man who embraces the tactics of our enemies,” Biden said. “We cannot elect a man who belittles our closest allies while embracing dictators like Vladimir Putin.”

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was even more pointed, reworking his prepared remarks at the last minute to blast Trump for comments Wednesday that explicitly encouraged Moscow to hack Clinton’s private email servers.

“Today, Donald Trump once again took Russia’s side,” Panetta said. “He asked the Russians to engage in American politics. Think about that for a moment. Donald Trump is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States to affect our election.”

Panetta contrasted that with what he described as Clinton’s readiness to combat militants from groups like the Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for deadly terror attacks in Brussels, Istanbul, France, Baghdad, and the United States.

The crowd booed when Panetta described Trump’s remarks, but it’s unclear whether they will sway votes outside the Democratic Party faithful, especially given the widespread and lingering public anger over Clinton’s use, and apparent abuse, of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

Republicans have spent months stoking that anger. Last week, Republicans kicked off their four-day national convention with the theme: “Make America Safe Again.” The lineup, handpicked by Trump, featured C- and D-list actors, long-in-the-tooth retired politicians, obscure lawmakers, and presidential also-rans. They spoke of innocent Americans dying on U.S. streets at the hands of criminals, undocumented immigrants, and terrorists like those responsible for the carnage in Orlando, Florida, and San Bernardino, California.

Over and over, they portrayed an America beset by lawlessness and disorder — and argued that only Trump, a self-described “law and order” candidate, could bring things under control. Trump, with his characteristic understatement, used the phrase four times in a prime-time convention speech that painted an apocalyptic picture of America almost without precedent in U.S. politics.

Republicans have turned back to that line of attack, accusing Democrats of being soft on crime and national security because the opening days of their convention made scant mention of terrorism or the Islamic State, whose unexpected rise has made American voters as anxious as they’ve been since just after 9/11.

On Wednesday, Democrats embraced both issues and returned to them in speeches both expansive and deeply intimate.

Tim Kaine, formally accepting his party’s nomination for vice president, spoke of his son Nat’s service in the Marine Corps and recent deployment overseas.

He and others like him serve “to protect and defend the very NATO allies that Donald Trump now says he would abandon,” Kaine said of his son.

Later, he gave Clinton a uniquely strong endorsement: “As he’s serving our nation abroad, I trust Hillary Clinton with our son’s life.”

Even when they weren’t at the podium, leading Democratic national security hands seemed genuinely stunned by the tenor of Trump’s anti-immigrant, pro-Russian hacking comments.

House Intelligence Ranking Member Adam Schiff of California, who spoke early Wednesday, told Foreign Policy that “it was appalling how every illustration he gave of immigrants during the Republican convention was, ‘They are coming here to literally murder an American.’”

“He clearly doesn’t know that we are a nation of immigrants, but it also says what a dark vision he has of America,” Schiff said.

The California Democrat said Clinton “is ready to confront challenges coming from other parts of the world, from ISIS and al Qaeda and Russian aggression.”

“It’s a very different view, both at home and abroad,” he said.

Photo credit: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/Staff

 @yochidreazen

Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian. @mollymotoole

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