Report

Clinton Warns America Faces ‘Moment of Reckoning’

Hillary Clinton used her first speech as the Democratic Party’s nominee to lay out her qualifications to be commander in chief, rather than reflect on the historic nature of her candidacy.

Clinton

PHILADELPHIA — Hillary Clinton took the stage in Philadelphia Thursday night as the first woman presidential nominee and immediately began working to persuade skeptical voters that a female commander in chief would keep the country safer than her blustery and tough talking rival, Donald Trump.

“Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis,” Clinton said of her Republican opponent. “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

The former secretary of state has increasingly emphasized her foreign-policy credentials in a general election matchup against a GOP nominee who has no experience in political office or national security. The Clinton campaign and its surrogates argue that Trump doesn’t have the temperament or intellect to lead the U.S. as it navigates through a complex and dangerous world.

“Donald Trump says, and this is a quote, ‘I know more about ISIS than the generals do,’” she said, sarcastically. “No, Donald, you don’t.”

Trump has continued to give his opponents new material for their criticism. The petulant reality TV host has alarmed global leaders with a neo-isolationist, anti-trade, and anti-immigrant “America First” foreign policy and alienated broad swaths of the American electorate by using bigoted and xenophobic rhetoric.

Throughout the convention this week, the Democratic Party’s biggest national security heavyweights have blasted Trump for encouraging Moscow to hack Clinton’s private email server and for saying Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “better leader than Obama.”

Still, the deep and growing concerns about Trump — one of the least popular presidential candidates in American history — haven’t changed the fact that the race is currently a toss-up, with an average of recent polls showing the candidates virtually tied, with Trump enjoying a lead of less than 1 percent.

That means Clinton needs to do more than simply tear down Trump, who she derided Thursday for “bigotry and bombast” that amounted to nothing other than “empty promises.”

Instead, she needs to persuade American voters that she can ensure their safety and security.

While Clinton has extensive experience handling foreign policy and national security issues, those credentials won’t necessarily be enough to overcome her flaws as a candidate — or change the fact that foreign policy issues won’t necessarily decide November.

The former senator and first lady has struggled to translate her wonkish tendencies into a central narrative that captures voters’ imagination or to settle on a catchphrase as memorable as “Hope and Change” or “Make America Great Again.” After controversies over her use of a private email server during her tenure at the State Department, she must also work to regain the American public’s trust. And she faces a unique challenge defending her judgement, with her fingerprints all over an Obama administration foreign policy that from Libya to Iraq to Afghanistan has failed to bring stability.

On Thursday, she didn’t downplay the anxiety that has marked 2016 election in the wake of a spate of terrorist attacks from Baghdad to Nice to Orlando and globalization trends that have left sizable portions of the American electorate behind economically.

Yet she rejected the pessimism Trump portrayed last week in Cleveland, quipping that he’s taken the GOP from the Reagan-era optimism of “‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America.’”

“He wants to divide us — from the rest of the world, and from each other,” she said.

Her answer was “stronger together,” from a U.S. that leads but works in partnership with the international community as an investment in its national security, to one that celebrates its diversity as an investment in its homeland security.

“Yes, the world is watching what we do. Yes, America’s destiny is ours to choose,” she said to a loud crowd waving placards reading, “Hillary” and “Together,” just before the ubiquitous red, white, and blue balloons dropped. “Let’s be stronger together.”

Clinton is getting a boost from prominent retired officers like former Marine Gen. John Allen, who commanded U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan before serving as President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State. Earlier Thursday, Allen — flanked by nearly two dozen generals, admirals, and veterans of those wars that Obama’s successor will inherit — marched to the podium as part of a highly-choreographed move designed to convey that members of one of America’s most trusted institutions backed Clinton.

Allen dinged Trump for saying he’d weigh whether or not to defend NATO allies against Russian invasion depending on how much they’d spent on their own militaries.

“With her as our commander in chief,” he said, “our international relations will not be reduced to a business transaction.” 

Photo credit: Jessica Kourkounis / Stringer

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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