Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, who sacrificed personal ambition for her husband’s political career and then rose to be a globally influential figure, became the first woman to accept a major party’s presidential nomination Thursday night, a prize that generations of American women have dreamed about for one of their own.
Declaring that the nation was at “a moment of reckoning,” Clinton, 68, urged voters to reject the divisive policy ideas and combative politics of the Republican nominee, Donald Trump. She offered herself as a steady and patriotic American who would stand up for citizens of all races and creeds and unite the country to persevere against Islamic terrorists, economic troubles and the chaos of gun violence.
“Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart, bonds of trust and respect are fraying,” said Clinton, who worked on the speech until the early hours of Thursday morning. “And just as with our founders there are no guarantees. It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we all will work together so we all can rise together.”
[Fact checking Clinton’s acceptance speech]
Clinton radiated confidence, from her pungent delivery and easy laugh to the unusually expressive ways she shifted her tone and delighted in her own best lines. She smoothly acknowledged her own limitations and trust issues as a public figure and forcefully challenged Trump over his claims that he alone could fix America’s problems.
And after 25 years in a sometimes brutal national spotlight, Clinton tried to explain who she is and what drives her — from her Methodist faith to her passion for government policy that could mean all the difference for people.
“I sweat the details of policy,” Clinton said. “Because it’s not just a detail if it’s your kid — if it’s your family. It’s a big deal. And it should be a big deal to your president.”
It was one of several contrasts she drew with Trump, who has barely explained how he would carry out his policy goals. And she received help from several Republicans and military veterans who took the convention stage earlier in the evening to warn that Trump was not fit for the presidency and would take the United States to “a dark place of discord and fear,” as retired Gen. John Allen put it. Democrats in the convention hall broke out into a booming, lengthy chant of “USA, USA!”
But the most powerful guest speaker of the evening was Khizr Khan, a Muslim-American whose son joined the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was killed during service in Iraq. Khan, rebuking Trump for frequently demonizing Muslims as threats to the United States, pulled a copy of the Constitution out of his suit jacket.
“Mr. Trump, have you even read the Constitution?” he said. “You have sacrificed nothing.”
His words seemed to send a collective shiver through the convention hall, leaving some delegates in tears.
Few recent political conventions have had a night gusting with so much history and high emotion. If elected, Clinton would become the 45th president of the United States, as well as the first to be married to a former president, Bill Clinton, the nation’s 42nd. She would be the latest in a long line of Yale graduates and accomplished lawyers to lead the country — but she would also be the first mother and grandmother to be commander in chief, decades after women became heads of state elsewhere.
Democrats roared with passion and pride as a beaming Clinton took the stage after her daughter, Chelsea, introduced her as an American who was inspired by her own mother’s impoverished childhood and had faced personal and professional choices that defined generations of women. The two locked eyes and fell into a long embrace as Hillary Clinton patted her back. A moment later, Hillary Clinton waved at Bill Clinton, and he blew her a kiss.
Then Hillary Clinton, who has given only a few major political speeches in her life, delivered her biggest yet. She offered a positive portrait of America that felt like a different country than the nation in decline that Trump often describes and that many voters fear has come to pass after years of terrorism at home and abroad and the growing gap between rich and poor.
“He’s betting that the perils of today’s world will blind us to its unlimited promise,” Clinton said. “He wants us to fear the future and fear each other. Well, a great Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than 80 years ago, during a much more perilous time: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'”
Clinton, facing a three-month general election campaign against an unpredictable Trump, who has risen in the polls since his convention speech last week, hoped that her remarks here would not only energize her party but also help her connect with undecided and independent voters who are skeptical of her candidacy.
She nodded toward the political work she still had to do. Praising her rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, she told his mostly liberal supporters — some of whom booed or staged a “silent protest” in the hall, declining to applaud her speech — “I want you to know, I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause.”
And she acknowledged that many voters still do not relate to her after her eight years as first lady, eight as a senator and four as secretary of state.
“The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part,” Clinton said. “I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me,” she added before sharing memories of her humble roots and life lessons from church and her mother — particularly, “no one gets through life alone.”
Her strategy was to go hard at Trump, repeatedly drawing contrasts between her positions — which are in the mainstream of Democratic politics — and Trump’s unorthodox views for a Republican, such as placing tariffs on other nations’ goods and possibly withdrawing from treaties and trade deals.
Reciting a litany of unusual and unlikely ideas that Trump laid out at the Republican convention, Clinton drew huge laugh when she said, “He spoke for 70-odd minutes — and I do mean odd.”
Clinton, the rare first lady who, like her idol Eleanor Roosevelt, used the job to influence policy and who went on to be a powerful figure, began her quest for the White House nearly a decade ago with her first run for the nomination against Barack Obama.
Back then she presented herself as a steely and even hawkish Democrat who held some views — opposing gay marriage, supporting free trade and championing the rights of gun owners — that she has shifted since her defeat. This time around, she fashioned herself as “a progressive who likes to get things done” — the sort of line-straddling language that makes some liberals dubious of her values and some independents skeptical about her authenticity.
Her convention speech comes 47 years after young Hillary Rodham wound up in Life magazine after she used her commencement address at Wellesley College to reckon with that era’s civic unrest and clashes between protesters and police officers.
Her message to the millions of people watching her speech on television Thursday night was similar, as she implored Americans to look past fear and tumult and to choose harmony over hatred. But this time, Clinton was to speak to an audience that is deeply distrustful of her. Some 67 percent of all voters and 74 percent of independents said they do not trust Clinton, in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
About six weeks ago, Clinton started sketching out rough ideas about what she wanted to say when she accepted her party’s nomination. A month ago, discussions with her top policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, and speechwriters Dan Schwerin and Megan Rooney, began to shape the speech, with advice from a variety of friends and former speechwriters. Clinton also sought advice from Obama’s much-admired former director of speechwriting Jon Favreau.
The speech often electrified the assembled Democrats with its crowd-pleasing lines about Trump like, “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.”
And the delegates reveled at the end as confetti rained down on Clinton and she playfully swatted at the spill of balloons.
For her, though, the greatest exhilaration flowed from the sense that history had been made and that the lives of future generations would be changed forever.
“Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come,” Clinton said. “Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. Happy for boys and men, too — because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.
“So let’s keep going,” she said, “until every one of the 161 million women and girls across America has the opportunity she deserves.