- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2016

Last Monday, Democrats were under fire for the lack of American flags on their convention stage in Philadelphia.

By Friday, the party had draped itself in the Stars and Stripes as it tried to lay claim to patriotism and portray the GOP as a dark, destructive force representing anything but American values.

The candidacy of Republican Donald Trump and his break from the political norms of the past several decades, analysts say, has given Democrats an opening to sell themselves as the party of country, faith, character and morality.

Long on the defensive against the GOP on those fronts, Democrats clearly think this election cycle will be different, and that they can steal independent and moderate Republican votes by pushing the narrative that Mr. Trump goes against everything the country stands for.

“Fundamentally striking was [at the party convention], the Democrats were Republicans,” said Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. “Trump’s radical break with the Republican Party has allowed Democrats to capture tropes and values they’d long been excluded from employing. Their message [at the convention] was that they are the party of values, the party of loyalty and patriotism, the party of military respect, the party of justice and freedom and, most striking of all, the party of God.

“All of these used to be Republican tropes, with Democrats long arguing that they were the better managers, while Republicans seized the moral high ground,” he added.

Over the past week, at the convention and afterwards, speeches from top Democrats — including presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine, President Obama and others — have been peppered with direct references to God, patriotism, American values and similar themes.

In his DNC speech last Wednesday night, Mr. Kaine even explicitly told Republicans that their party no longer represents the American values embodied by one of their founding heroes, Abraham Lincoln. Addressing his Republican father-in-law, former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton, Mr. Kaine explained that the party has strayed so far from its roots that clear-thinking, patriotic Republicans should consider crossing the aisle in November.

“Here is why he is voting for Democrats: because any party that would nominate Donald Trump for president has moved too far away from his party of Lincoln,” Mr. Kaine said. “If any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln, we have got a home for you right here in the Democratic Party.”

The newfound focus on patriotism extends well beyond speeches. Democratic rallies also look increasingly more red, white and blue.

At the start of the party convention last week, no American flags were visible on the stage inside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, prompting a rebuke from Mr. Trump and from other critics.

“Not one American flag on the massive stage at the Democratic National Convention until people started complaining, then a small one. Pathetic,” Mr. Trump tweeted last week.

Indeed, Democrats responded by putting flags on the stage by Tuesday afternoon.

By Thursday night, when Mrs. Clinton delivered her acceptance speech, the arena was filled with American flags, handed out to conventiongoers before the address began.

The next day at a Philadelphia campaign rally, it was a similar scene. The stage from which Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Kaine spoke featured several large American flags. Flags also were draped along the balconies, and smaller flags had been handed out to attendees.

Against that backdrop, Mrs. Clinton made the case that Mr. Trump’s America is dark and apocalyptic, while Democrats have faith in and love for country.

“We might as well have been talking about two different countries or two different planets,” she said, offering her own recap of what voters heard from the respective party conventions. “Donald Trump painted a negative, dark, divisive picture of a country in decline. He insisted America is weak, and he told us all, after laying out this very dark picture, that I alone can fix it. As I watched and heard that, it set off alarm bells.”

Mr. Obama summed up the party’s new pitch in his own address last Wednesday night, pushing the idea that all Americans can find a home in the Democratic Party, but increasingly few voters have a place in the GOP.

“I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together — black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, young, old, gay, straight, men, women, folks with disabilities — all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love,” he said. “That’s what I see. That’s the America I know.”

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