Why Democrats have to worry about their ‘down card’ convention speakers

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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As a rule, Democrats win when they run as mainstream conservatives — not as radicals. Thus, a born again Christian from Georgia named Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976 — and a “new” Democrat from Arkansas named Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Even Chicago’s Barack Obama — who made sure you knew he wasn’t against all wars (just the bad one) — was able to pull off the maneuver.

But if the first night of the Democratic Convention is any clue, the ruse might be up.

To be sure, there were several speakers who could appeal to mainstream Americans watching at home (Harry Reid and Tammy Duckworth were both compelling), but also, several who won’t play well in Peoria (for example, Nancy Keenan, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Rep. Rosa DeLauro.)

During the 10pm EST prime time hour, of course, they trotted out the TV-friendly marquee speakers — who furtively stressed conservative values. This is to be expected. Unless you’re crazy enough to put Clint Eastwood on stage during prime time, you expect the prime time speeches to be heavily vetted. But it was clear that during the other hours, the Republican Party was much better at presenting speakers who would appeal to middle America.

We’ve seen this show before. When Democrats get power, it isn’t long before the liberals — tired of being dormant — demand attention. At some point, they forget that most Americans aren’t really with them (or maybe they just believe the world has changed?). Regardless, unless they adjust and push the liberal fringe elements from the stage (Bill Clinton had to recalibrate several times during his career), wearing their liberalism on their sleeve has historically spelled electoral doom.

One gets the sense that we are nearing that point again.

Last week, Stephanie Cutter said the Democratic convention wouldn’t be about “rallying the base.” That prediction looks silly today. It’s unclear to me whether the Obama team cannot — or will not — keep the more unseemly parts of this disparate coalition of grievances off stage. But this could be a real problem if it is a harbinger of things to come.

My main takeaway last night was this: The Democrats are even more annoying and weirder than the Republicans!

Look, we all have a crazy uncle — but we don’t parade him around when the neighbors visit. On night one, it seemed the inmates were getting restless. They might soon run the asylum. Let’s see how the rest of the convention develops.

Matt K. Lewis