Politics

ground game

Two conventions, two definitions of ‘fear’

Balloons come down on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine at the end of the fourth and final night of the Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Center on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Balloons came down on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.

PHILADELPHIA -- Over the last two weeks, Republicans and Democrats put on vastly different nation conventions in both style and substance. But in perhaps the biggest way, the parties differed in how they defined fear to the American people.

Fear, to be sure, was a major theme in both conventions. The Republican message of fear focused on terrorism, job security, crime, a sense of America in decline, and its borders unprotected. Democrats invoked fear in a much less complicated way: How scary it would be to have Donald Trump in the White House.

These are not flippant arguments. The 2016 election for president may come down to a single premise: Is it scarier not to drastically change our political leadership, or scarier to actually do it without being sure what that means or what happens next?

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On Thursday night, Clinton tried to project optimism and patriotism in her speech -- presumably an attempt to contrast with Trump’s darker convention address from the week before. She struck an inclusive tone, trying to appeal directly to supporters of US Senator Bernie Sanders and even Republicans with references to President Reagan and US Senator John McCain.

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But Clinton’s more memorable lines were her criticism, and at times mocking, of Trump.

“Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” she said.

For months Clinton has been criticized for the fact that her campaign (and its message) do not fit nicely onto a bumper sticker. Donald Trump’s name, on the other hand, is now synonymous with the phrase “Make America Great Again.”

What is Clinton’s phrase? At the Democratic National Convention, she showed her bumper sticker: Vote Clinton Because You Can’t Vote Trump.

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In her convention-closing speech Thursday night, Clinton admitted she wasn’t perfect. She was candid that people didn’t know what to make of her sometimes. Despite these acknowledgments, Clinton’s overall message focused on this: I am known and he isn’t. She will work within the system to bring change, and he will shatter the system.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign at www.bostonglobe.com/groundgame.