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Bill Clinton To Blaze New Path at Democratic Convention on Tuesday

DEM 2016 ConventionDEM 2016 Convention
Former President Bill Clinton applauds as First Lady Michelle Obama speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Monday, July 25, 2016. Photograph by J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Bill Clinton has spoken at every Democratic National Convention since 1988. He’s spoken as a governor, as a presidential nominee, as a president running for reelection, as a lame duck president, and as a former president. On Tuesday evening, though, he’ll give an unprecedented address. He will speak as a man supporting his wife days before she accepts the U.S. presidential nomination of a major party.

The role Bill Clinton has played on the campaign trail, and the one he’d play in a Hillary Clinton White House, has been tricky to nail down. At times on the trail, he’s spent too much time defending his own administration, especially when Black Lives Matter activists have accused him of putting policies in place that contributed to mass incarceration.

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At the same time, Hillary Clinton has said that she’d use Bill and his expertise to address the country’s economic problems. It’s clear that he would be one of her most trusted advisors, just like Hillary was when Bill was in the White House. His experience with foreign affairs, with working with a hostile congress, and with the intricacies of the executive branch will come in handy.

Of course, that help comes with Bill’s baggage: The infidelity. The accusations of harassment. The lingering resentment from some on the left that his “New Democrat” platform is what pulled the party to the right in the first place. Bill Clinton, after all, is the Democrat who embraced free trade, something voters on both sides of the aisle now blame for the economic downturn in the Midwest and throughout the U.S.

On Tuesday, look for Bill to focus on his wife. If he avoids defending his record in the 1990s, his speech could be a success. If he gets caught up in his own past, it could irritate progressives, something the party surely doesn’t want to do.