PHILADELPHIA — He’s no Michelle Obama, but he may still help.
The 42nd president of the United States, Bill Clinton, appeared onstage here Tuesday night in a crisp blue suit and blue tie to vouch for his wife, who was officially nominated as the Democratic candidate earlier in the evening.
His speech was the opposite of electrifying, a sleepy noise machine set to the cliché channel compared to the first lady’s soaring prose from 24 hours before, but it was not unhelpful and, at this point, that’s all the former president needs to be.
Throughout the primary season, the wisdom of employing Bill as a surrogate for Hillary was not always clear.
In New Hampshire, in February, his presence on the trail—in flannel, no less—seemed to overshadow the candidate. And then in April, he eclipsed her completely when he sparred with Black Lives Matter protesters during an event.
While Bernie Sanders fans decry what feels, to them, like a coronation for the next in line in America’s dynasty, Bill’s presence is just a reminder of Hillary’s inextricable link to the political establishment.
Not to mention, it doesn’t help that, as Hillary adopts the rhetoric of modern feminists—like the need to believe all women who accuse men of sex crimes—Bill remains the only sitting president in history ever to be accused of sexual assault and rape.
Still, the risk that the former president could be a distraction does not seem to outweigh the potential benefits for the campaign—he stands to appeal, more effectively than his wife, to the white working-class voters who supported his presidency but since have drifted to the right.
And he maintains a certain charisma and likability that critics assert Hillary lacks.
“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl,” he began on Tuesday night.
He then went through, in what felt like painstaking detail, the story of their courtship and early years—although Hillary has at times contradicted Bill’s version of events, not uncommon among couples of any social or political status, in fairness.
He made the case that Hillary is “a change-maker” who is “real” in a way that her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, is not.
Of course, he glossed over any controversies or questions about character.
“What’s the difference between what they told you and what I said?” he asked of the Republican National Convention, which took place in Cleveland last week. “One is real and the other is made up.”
He seemed to push back at assertions that Hillary is unlikable, using as counter-testimony the fact that some of her longtime friends and acquaintances from Arkansas travel the country campaigning for her “at their own expense, to fight for the person they know.”
Earlier in the day, ahead of Hillary’s formal nomination with the roll call vote, the paranoia and anti-dynasty sentiment swirled outside the perimeter of the convention.
It sounded eerily similar to the conspiracy theories circulating among the fringes of the Republican Party.
A 55-year-old woman named Jenny, holding a “Bernie or Bust” sign, told The Daily Beast that she is not voting this cycle, despite having cast a ballot in every election since she was 18.
She said she “used to think Bill Clinton was OK” but “Benghazi made me turn against the Clintons.” Jenny also cited Hillary’s email scandal, which for her was the “nail in the coffin.”
According to Hunter, another Sanders supporter from Tennessee, Bill “is just Hillary’s puppet.” He blamed President Clinton for “[selling] us out to China” in the ’90s and decried NAFTA as an international agreement that “royally screwed us” in America.
Jennifer, 26, from New Jersey, called Bill Clinton a “rapist” and a failed president,” and, with perhaps the most scorn, “another Reagan.”
Dori Cowan, a 44-year-old New Jersey woman, plans to write in Bernie Sanders. “[Bill Clinton] is not ethical, he has low morality, and he has too much criminality,” she said.
For some of Sanders’s most ardent fans, especially those in their twenties, Bill Clinton’s years in the White House were mostly a blur.
“He’s slept with many women. It’s kinda gross. It’s all secrecy with them,” said Nick Marsh of Michigan City, Indiana.
Sanders supporters said job creation during the Clinton administration was mostly a matter of luck rather than policy. They weren’t willing to give Bill Clinton any credit for the relatively prosperous years of the 1990s.
“He just got in, in a time in America when there was a computer boom and things were going well,” Marsh said.
“He had some good policies, but the more we look back on it, the more I think he was handed a golden ticket,” said John Zinevich, a New Jersey Sanders supporter.
In his speech Tuesday night, Bill Clinton aimed his fire at Hillary’s critics.
“A real change-maker represents a real threat,” he said. “So your only option is to create a cartoon—a cartoon alternative. They run against a cartoon. Cartoons are two-dimensional, they’re easy to absorb. Life in the real world is complicated… Earlier today you nominated the real one.”
“For this time,” Clinton said, “Hillary is uniquely qualified to seize the opportunities and reduce the risk we take, and she is still the best darn change-maker I’ve ever known.”
Tim Mak, Andrew Desiderio, and Asawin Suebsaeng contributed to this report.