A former president of the United States on Tuesday presented his wife as the woman with the mettle and grit to succeed at his old job.
It wasn’t that Bill Clinton had to introduce Hillary Clinton, exactly. Hardly anyone doesn’t know who she is.
No, Bill Clinton faced a trickier task: getting more people to like the newly minted Democratic nominee.
So Clinton did what he likes to do. He delivered a stem-winding speech that mixed personal anecdotes and policy to give his wife the sort of depth and humanity she struggles to show herself on the political stump.
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“She’s the best darn change-maker I ever met in my entire life,” Clinton said. using a phrase he would try to get to catch on throughout the speech. On cue, thousands of delegates inside Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center waved blue-and-white “Change maker” signs.
Despite an earlier walkout staged by Bernie Sanders fans, the arena was nearly filled, all the way to the rafters, with most people hanging on to Clinton’s every word. Protests simmered throughout the night on the streets outside.
Shortly after he concluded, his wife appeared on the Jumbotron live via satellite from New York. The convention hall burst into deafening cheers.
“I can’t believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,” she said. “And if there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch: I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next.”
Bill Clinton didn’t quite match his notable 2012 Democratic convention speech, in which the “secretary of explaining stuff” argued for President Barack Obama’s re-election. This Clinton was more restrained and more personal. In humanizing his wife, he was also inevitably humanizing himself.
His wife, Clinton said, has been inaccurately portrayed as a two-dimensional caricature: “A real change-maker represents a real threat, so you’re only option is to create a cartoon. Life in the real world is complicated.”
Polls show Hillary Clinton would be the most disliked presidential candidate in history if it weren’t for Republican nominee Donald Trump, who’s even less liked.
“The real one,” Bill Clinton said, has collected lifelong friends “who have gone all across America” — at their own expense — “to fight for the person they know.”
“The real one has earned the loyalty and respect and fervent support of those who have worked with her,” he said. “The real one calls you when you’re sick, when your kid’s in trouble or when there’s a death in the family. The real one repeatedly drew praise from Republicans when she was a senator and secretary of state.”
Building on the narrative of their marriage — a potentially problematic choice, given its rocky history — and laying out his wife’s résumé, Clinton began in the spring of 1971, when he met his future wife on the Yale Law School campus. Fifteen minutes into the 42-minute-long speech, he was still in 1975. (“We gotta get back on schedule,” he said, not really joking, during a particularly long stretch of applause.)
He offered nostalgia for his own presidency, in an obvious appeal to white voters who have been flocking to the GOP and Trump.
“When I was president, I worked hard to give you more peace and shared prosperity,” he said. “But for this time, Hillary is uniquely qualified to seize the opportunities and reduce the risks we face.”
Bill Clinton didn’t mention Trump by name, though he clearly referred to him several times — including twice when he mocked an unnamed someone who thinks policy is “boring.”
Trump offered a prebuttal of the speech, posting a series of tweets commenting on the Democratic convention.
“No matter what Bill Clinton says and no matter how well he says it, the phony media will exclaim it to be incredible,” he wrote in one. “Highly overrated!”