After years of big moments, Bill Clinton’s DNC role shrinks

Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton speaks during the funeral service for the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Few people ever have logged more time on Democratic National Convention stages than Bill Clinton.

But when the former president delivers his 11th speech to his party’s faithful on Tuesday, it will be like none they’ve seen since he was a relative national unknown from Arkansas four decades ago. It will be brief.

Clinton’s address at the virtual convention will be limited to just five minutes — hardly enough time for the famously loquacious Clinton to get warmed up. The remarks will come before the time slots reserved for brighter stars, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden’s wife, Jill.

Even abbreviated, Clinton’s appearance is tricky for his party. In the #MeToo era, as Democrats are focused on overt appeals to female voters, putting Clinton on stage is problematic for Democrats, given the numerous accusations of sexual misconduct against him.

An aide says Clinton’s speech will focus on Trump, including broadsides that go beyond the blistering speech he delivered during his 2016 convention address — when he helped the party formally choose his wife, Hillary, as its presidential nominee. The remarks were pretaped from the Clintons’ home in Chappaqua, New York.

“Donald Trump says we’re leading the world. Well, we are the only major industrial economy to have its unemployment rate triple,” Clinton plans to say, according to excerpts released beforehand by the Democratic Party. “At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center. Instead, it’s a storm center. There’s only chaos. Just one thing never changes — his determination to deny responsibility and shift the blame. The buck never stops there.”

Clinton will stress what he calls Trump’s economic failures amid the coronavirus pandemic and argue that the fallout on families and businesses wouldn’t be nearly as dire had Trump not so bungled the federal government’s response.

“Our party is united in offering you a very different choice: a go-to-work president. A down-to-earth, get-the-job-done guy,” Clinton plans to say. “A man with a mission: to take responsibility, not shift the blame; concentrate, not distract; unite, not divide. Our choice is Joe Biden.”

Clinton, who turns 74 on Wednesday, is still three years younger than Biden and remains a force within the party — even though it has left behind many of the market-based reforms and centrism he popularized in the 1990s.

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown, who unsuccessfully ran against Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 1992, said it’s impressive how the former president has continued to carve out a role for himself in Democratic politics. But nothing lasts forever.

“If you hang around long enough,” the 82-year-old Brown said, “you won’t fit.”

This is among Clinton’s most high-profile appearances since the #MeToo movement sparked a broad, national debate over sexism, sexual assault and gender bias, meanwhile, and Clinton’s convention appearance is falling on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women’s right to vote.

Clinton was a visible part of the 2016 convention and campaign, even as Trump repeatedly raised the former president’s past — and invited a group of the former president’s accusers to attend a debate. The move was an attempt to counter the criticism Trump received after video surfaced of Trump bragging about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women who weren’t his wife.

This time, Clinton’s role will be limited in a way he hasn’t experienced since the conventions of 1980 and 1984, when he spoke but wasn’t among the keynote headliners. His debut for most of the country came in 1988 — before rising star New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born — when his speech was so long that he famously drew applause when he declared, “In conclusion.”

Four years later, Clinton was the nominee and delivered his acceptance speech. He addressed the convention as president in 1996 and 2000. But he may be best known for his convention speech in 2012, when he was widely credited for making a more passionate and crisp case for why Barack Obama deserved a second term than Obama himself.

That address from eight years ago went well over Clinton’s allotted time and lasted nearly 50 minutes — or 10 times how long he’s set to speak Tuesday.


Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report from Sacramento, Calif.

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