Hillary Clinton will fly out of Philadelphia with a clear template for campaigning against Donald Trump.
But because fear persuades more powerfully than hope, and because Trump is a natural template disrupter, Clinton must prepare to be strategically and tactically nimble in the fall. It is near impossible to respond conventionally to a candidate who uses fear to make what is small appear large, and what is large appear to be fantasy. Here are five thoughts that the Clinton campaign should keep in mind.
1. Don't actually try to court Republicans and don't worry about the 'Bernie-or-Bust' bots. Hillary Clinton will not win over waves of Republican voters. What she can do is to appeal to the conscience of enough Republicans to convince them simply not to vote for Donald Trump. Clinton should also spend little time responding to the #BernieOrBust concerns about persistent militarism, or about the direction she will take in her foreign policy. The concerns might be valid, but there is no political upside to spending any time dealing with them. She is no longer facing the pacifism of Bernie Sanders; she is countering the angry hunches of Donald Trump.
2. Clinton should not assume that her post convention increase in the polls will defy gravity. It will, indeed, be a bounce. Her numbers will go up, as Democrats feel solidarity and Democratic-leaning independents feel the afterglow of unfiltered, slickly produced party propaganda. Those numbers will then decline, most probably, to a new set point, as the Democratic leaners are reminded of their doubts about Clinton. But, as Nate Silver points out, polls tend to be more accurate after conventions. These conventions have drawn record numbers of viewers. And this convention was especially effective. Clinton's bounce might be unusually high, and her new set-point might be higher than her pre-convention baseline.
3. It's not the economy, stupid. Donald Trump will hit Clinton with a blizzard of economic statistics showing, accurately, that many Americans don't think the economy is getting better, and that many others feel abandoned by the new economy. Clinton must develop a concise way of explaining the effects of her economic policy proposals. But Trump's appeal is coded to appeal to the anxieties of the white working class. It cannot be fought with statistics or slogans. It must be fought by appealing to a different set of anxieties, namely, those that call Trump's competence into question. Here, Clinton would be well-served to fight Trump's economic message with a litany of Trump's failed businesses, his history of not caring for the working class, and by questioning his core honesty.
4. Put real people in her campaign ads. There were a number of remarkable political speakers at the Democratic National Convention, and most of them were civilians. The father of a fallen Muslim soldier, Khizr Kahn. The mother of an Army sergeant who died in Afghanistan. Children that Hillary Clinton has reached out to. Donald Trump has billionaires who can vouch for his generosity. Clinton has real Americans on her side, and they can be used organically and ingeniously. Americans crave authenticity, even if they can't define what authenticity is. Clinton herself might not be able to convince voters that she is her true self, but real people can testify to her true motivations.
5. Those ads must be negative. Yes, "When they go low, we go high," as Michelle Obama said. But Clinton's campaign shouldn't try to float above the scrum. Attacks against Trump's character, competence, and sanity work. They work when real people, like Khizr Khan, deliver them. Clinton should reserve her own broadside against Trumpism for moments when everyone is watching, like during the debates, and she should let her campaign — and surrogates — do the work until then.