For Hillary Clinton, finding thousands of words for her speech Thursday accepting the Democratic presidential nomination will be easy.
Distilling her campaign to a simple few will be harder.
Think of Ronald Reagan boiling down his 1980 campaign to the powerful message, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Or Bill Clinton’s three main points in 1992: “The economy, stupid”; change vs. more of the same. Or Barack Obama’s in 2008: hope and change.
Yet today, after more than a year of campaigning, has Hillary Clinton been unable to craft a clear, cogent message – just a few simple words – that distills what her crusade has been all about?
“Short and sweet? I don’t know if I can describe it as ‘short and sweet,’ ” said Michael Armand, 52, a Clinton backer from Boise, Idaho, at the Democratic National Convention.
A state health employee, Armand said he liked Clinton’s views on the economy, foreign policy and other topics, but conceded: “It’s not really something I can put into a micro-sentence.”
Nor, apparently, can her campaign, at least one with any real staying power. It’s not for lack of trying.
She’s road-tested numerous slogans this year: “In to win.” “Working for change, working for you.” “The Hillary I know.”
The motto of the moment? “Stronger together.”
I don’t get a sense she’s offering a vision. She has a list of policy proposals and keeps reminding us she’s not Trump.
Democratic strategist Marc Farinella
“Her whole philosophy, that has been true of her whole life, is that ‘It Takes a Village,’ ” Clinton Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri said, referring to the title of one of the nominee’s books. “She believes in an America that is stronger for everyone. Not just those at the top.”
But Democratic strategist Marc Farinella said “Stronger together” was more a commentary on her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, and how divisive his campaign had been.
“What is Hillary’s vision?” he said. “That’s all about Trump tearing us apart and ‘I’m not going to be Trump.’ But not being Trump is not going to be enough to win the election.”
There’s no mistaking the simplicity and appeal of Trump’s “Make America great again.”
The billionaire’s message is quick, to the point, and goes to the heart of what his campaign is about: The country has been on a downward slide, become lawless, cows before terrorists and fears offending anyone.
Crystal Moore, a 30-year-old Bernie Sanders delegate from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who is now backing Clinton, tossed around a few ideas for what might encapsulate the candidate’s message, then gave up: “I don’t know if her slogan is as catchy as ‘Make America great,’ but . . . I think people recognize what they are getting from her as a candidate.”
The right slogan can have immense power. It can provide a reason for people to vote for you.
“A leader, for a change,” was President Jimmy Carter’s watchword in 1976, following the upheaval of the Watergate scandal.
Perhaps Clinton’s acceptance speech will produce something memorable, which can then be crystallized into a few words and short soundbite.
The necessity is the same –what is her vision? – whether in five words or 5,000.
A lot of people say, ‘Well, we’ve seen the Clintons.’ You really haven’t seen Hillary Clinton. For the first time, she’s going to have the bully pulpit to bring fresh energy and passion to views she’s long had.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
“She has clearly developed policies, so when she makes a statement she has the white paper, she has the research to back it up and it’s believable,” said former Florida state Rep. Cynthia Chestnut. “She is a brilliant woman, she’s very substantive and she needs to stick with that.”
Indeed, the former secretary of state, U.S. senator, first lady and social activist has reams of policy papers. But Democrats said her speech needed to be more than just a recitation of programs.
Her goal should be to do what her husband did for her in his own address Tuesday night: He humanized her by telling personal stories and showing her personality. She’s one of the most famous women in the world, as well as the target of more than two decades of partisan attacks and derision.
Close allies extol her warmth, but Clinton has struggled with relating to everyday Americans on the campaign trail over the last year.
“As much as she can, she I think needs to open herself up and show her emotion,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. “I think sometimes her desire to be tough and strong and determined gets in the way of people seeing how incredibly warm and passionate she is about people.”
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, a longtime friend of the Clintons, said she needed to talk about the opportunities here in America to contrast the vision of America that Trump described in his own acceptance speech at the Republican convention last week.
“There is a lot of economic angst out there today and people looking for some help,” McAuliffe said. “They want to see our country move forward.”
I would want her to say who she is on a platform that she'll have, that she'll probably never have again so directly to say who she is as our leader of our party.
Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.
Of vital importance, besides using her speech to excite the Democratic base and convince undecided voters, Clinton also needs to persuade skeptical Sanders supporters.
“It’s important for Bernie supporters to feel they made a difference, and I think they have,” said Patsy Keever, chairwoman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. “She needs to ask them to join her team.”
But there’s still the slogan. There’s a perfectly good one for a “change” election like this one that just needs a dusting off: “Change we can believe in.” Obama used it in 2008 after he defeated Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
If that won’t do, there’s always President Warren G. Harding’s from the 1920 election. It could be just the right antidote for the strange politics of 2016:
“Return to normalcy.”
Lesley Clark of the McClatchy Washington bureau and Dave Helling of The Kansas City Star contributed to this article.