The Democrats' Republican moment

Story highlights

  • Republicans praise Clinton, convention for patriotic, optimistic vision
  • Trump slams Democratic nominee for not using the phrase 'radical Islam'

(CNN)Over four flag-waving days in Philadelphia, Democrats stole the Republicans' mojo.

That's how many conservatives felt, at least, watching their opponent's pageant this week in Philadelphia. And it may be enough to sway some of them to cross the aisle on Election Day.
"How can it be that I am standing at my kitchen counter sobbing because of the messages being driven at the DNC?" Republican strategist Rich Galen asked on Twitter. "Where has the GOP gone?"
    As Democratic delegates chanted "USA! USA!" and military leaders celebrated America's power, speaker after speaker at the Democratic National Convention struck themes that have long been hallmarks of Republican rhetoric: tributes to service, sacrifice, American leadership and, above all, a repeated reaffirmation of American exceptionalism.
    "We have the most powerful military. The most innovative entrepreneurs. The most enduring values -- freedom and equality, justice and opportunity," Hillary Clinton said as she accepted her party's nomination on Thursday night, "We should be so proud that these words are associated with us. That when people hear them, they hear America."
    Throughout the convention, Democratic speakers struck optimistic notes, emphasized patriotism and a muscular American presence in the world, messages that happen to have strong appeal for disaffected Republicans and independents.
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    And the performance drew praise from many Republicans who object to GOP nominee Donald Trump -- particularly those who concentrate on foreign policy and national security, many of whom have been harshly critical of Trump's positions on Russia, NATO, Asia and nuclear weapons, among other issues.
    "The Democratic convention was a convention of patriotism this year," wrote Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host and blogger. "Democrats were for you. If you want to be free, the GOP was doom and gloom."
    The praise echoed many of the reactions that followed President Barack Obama's speech Wednesday night, when conservatives took to Twitter to praise its optimism and bemoan the fact that a Republican wasn't making it.
    John Podhoretz, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, tweeted that Obama's address "could have been a Reagan speech. Trust me. I know."
    Caroline McCain, granddaughter of Arizona Republican John McCain, announced in an essay that despite a deep bond to the Republican Party, she would be voting for Clinton, in part because of what she heard and saw at the Democratic convention.
    "On the penultimate night of the Democratic National Convention, the Democrats made a calculated play for disaffected Republican voters," McCain wrote on the Medium.com website. "I don't think it was hard to miss, but maybe that's because it felt like they were speaking to me."
    However, Trump and those Republicans who support him found plenty to criticize in Clinton's take on national security. Her record as secretary of state -- particularly her role in the US intervention in Libya, the Benghazi terror attacks, her role in the Iran nuclear deal and her overtures to China -- were central lines of attack throughout the GOP's own convention last week, including in speeches by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
    And immediately after Clinton's speech Thursday, the Republican nominee slammed her for not using the term Islamic terrorism. In an apparent attempt to reclaim the national security narrative, Trump tweeted that the Democrat's "refusal to mention Radical Islam" was yet "more proof that she is unfit to lead the country."
    He also criticized the Democratic convention as a whole for not addressing terrorism during the opening nights of the convention, noting that the word "ISIS" wasn't mentioned on the first day.
    Yet on Wednesday and Thursday, the issue of fighting terrorism and American leadership in the world became increasingly prominent themes.
    In part, the convention's tone reflected Clinton, who throughout her career has emphasized the unique role the US plays globally and taken a more hawkish stance on national security issues than many in her party.
    And to some degree, it also reflected the ways in which Obama -- though harshly criticized by those on the right for what they see as weakness in much of his foreign policy -- has chosen to use force.
    Obama has aggressively expanded his Republican predecessor's use of drone warfare and backed controversial surveillance measures against America's enemies. Most memorably, the daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden in one bullet buried the decades-old perception that a Democrat wasn't tough enough to deal with a threatening world.
    The themes of military strength and patriotism permeated the convention, but were most obvious when Gen. John Allen took the stage. In a speech punctuated by chants of "USA! USA!," the former commander of US forces in Afghanistan stressed American military power and issued a battle cry against ISIS, declaring that the terror group will be beaten and the homeland will be protected.
    Noah Rothman, a conservative writer at Commentary magazine, tweeted that "for Bush-era GOPers, a convention of Dems cheering 'USA' as military brass pledge to defeat 'evil' is disorienting."
    Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele tweeted that he was "enjoying this Republican Convention with a 4 Star General commanding the stage and chants of "USA, USA."
    The reaction, though, also reflected the split that exists within the Democratic Party over the military and use of force.
    The chants of "USA" during Allen's speech started in order to drown out the anti-war calls of convention-goers unhappy with the welcome accorded to Pentagon brass. The night before, supporters of Clinton primary opponent Bernie Sanders, many of whom still haven't fully reconciled themselves to Clinton winning the nomination, interrupted former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta with cries of "no more war!"
    While Clinton might hope to draw in moderates and even some Republicans with her strong-America rhetoric, she could also further turn off the progressive wing of the party that has long seen her as too close to the center.
    Still, whatever the risks to shoring up her support with the Democratic base, Clinton did not shy away from striking pro-military appeals during her nomination acceptance speech.
    Clinton laid out her strategy for defeating ISIS, emphasized the US commitment to protecting European allies from a bullying Russia and called for standing up to China. Noting that Trump had described the US military as "a disaster," Clinton lauded them as a "national treasure."
    The military's service and sacrifice -- as well as the Constitution, a Republican touchstone -- were movingly evoked Thursday night when the father of a fallen Muslim serviceman spoke of his son. Holding up his pocket-sized copy of the country's founding document, Khizr Khan addressed Trump directly, telling him to look through the Constitution for the word "liberty."
    "You have sacrificed nothing. And no one," Khan said.
    Throughout the convention, Clinton and other speakers offered a direct rebuttal to her Republican rival's insistence on American decline by emphasizing the positive force Americans can be at home and abroad.
    The Democratic convention was "about loving America," said prominent conservative writer Jonah Goldberg, "the Republican convention was about loving Trump. If you didn't love Trump, it offered nothing."