After devoting so much of her general election campaign to warning voters about Donald Trump, HIllary Clinton will close it by telling voters more about herself.
But defining Trump was relatively easy. Re-defining herself will be harder.
Getting personal has always been a challenge for Clinton, as she has acknowledged in the past. The new multi-pronged effort will include both a re-emphasis on hard policy and a softer-focus look at the human in the pantsuit.
“We want to be clear that this is an unusual election cycle, and there is a great deal of interest in Donald Trump and it's certainly important that people know the threat that we think his presidency poses and the choice that voters have,” said campaign Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, “but we also want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to lift up what she would do as president.”
It’s unlikely Clinton can, in eight weeks, change the views voters have strongly held for years, especially as polls tighten. But she could help get Democrats more enthused about voting for their nominee and support her claim of a policy mandate if elected.
Half of Clinton supporters say their vote is more about stopping Trump than supporting Clinton, according to recent Pew survey. And fewer than half of Clinton supporters say they support her strongly. Trump’s ratings are worse — in some measures much worse — but Clinton's are still unusual.
Meanwhile, despite filling 288 pages of a new book with policy ideas, her agenda has been buried in a nearly policy-free election in which Clinton herself has focused more on Trump’s temperament and fitness for office than her own vision for the country.
Clinton won’t stop attacking Trump. But with his unfavorability ratings seemingly locked in, she’ll shift her balance to begin spending more time trying to boost her own image.
In her new ad, Clinton moves past Trump quickly to begin talking about she’ll do: “Bring people together — that’s how you solve problems.”
On Friday, she’ll hold the first in a series of working group discussions on various issues meant to demonstrate that ability to convene. Friday’s meeting in New York City, focused on national security, will include former President George W. Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former CIA Director David Petraeus.
Her campaign also announced four new positive speeches — the first of which she gave Thursday night at the National Baptist Convention — on faith, an “inclusive” economy, national service and families.
Some Democrats outside the campaign have grumbled about the negative approach Clinton has taken since the Democratic National Convention, arguing Trump’s poor ratings are already as low as they can go and saying that she should have been focusing more on selling her credentials instead of making her campaign all about stopping Trump.
Clinton’s message about herself this year has been hard to pin down. In the primary, she was the pragmatic “progressive who likes to get things done” in contrast to Bernie Sanders’ idealism. In the general election race, she’s been the “steady hand” who thinks Americans are “stronger together” in contrast to a unpredictable and divisive Trump.
The shift in emphasis was planned all along, a campaign aide said, coming as voters tune into the election after Labor Day.
And the refocusing also includes Clinton, once again, trying to open up a bit so the world can see the person her friends and allies gush about — a perennial challenge for a candidate whom even President Obama once called “likable enough.”
“This is what people who know her mean when they say ‘if you only knew the Hillary I know,’" Palmieri said of a new video from the campaign that features a breast cancer survivor explaining how Clinton cared for her.
“She’s checked in on me, wanted to know how I was doing. She didn’t have to do that,” Janelle Turner says in the video, which opens with Clinton laughing off a question about whether she is wealthy or powerful.
“I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional,” Clinton candidly told the blog Humans of New York Thursday. “But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions.”
The lesson is directly tied to her gender, she implies, recounting how male students harassed her and her friend for potentially taking their spot in law school, which could have kept them from being drafted in the Vietnam War.
The reality of Clinton’s path to potentially becoming the first woman president is that she has so often been defined by the men around her. First, by her husband, Bill Clinton, and then her rival and future boss Barack Obama. In the primary, Sanders often set the tone. Now, it’s Trump.
"I'm not running for my husband's third term. I'm not running for President Obama's third term. I'm running for my first term,” Clinton felt the need to say several times earlier in the race.
The world doesn’t get Clinton, her allies have long known, and may not for some time, as Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook acknowledged in a podcast hosted by Politico’s Glenn Thrush earlier this year.
“I don't think people will fully appreciate who she is until, knock on wood, she's elected president,” Mook said.