Well into her acceptance speech on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton adroitly put her finger on what may be the major political challenge of her 2016 presidential bid: "The truth is," she said after reciting her lifetime in the political arena, "through all these years of public service, the 'service' has always come easier to me than the 'public' part."
In other words, working in the vineyards of social change for her various constituencies was easier than selling herself to the American multitudes.
In acknowledgment that polls place her on a low par with Donald Trump on likability and trustworthiness, Ms. Clinton confessed that she hasn't gotten through to the American people, perhaps because she has allowed herself to be seen as a cold policy wonk.
"It's true," she said, that "I sweat the details of policy, whether we're telling the truth about the exact level of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Mich., the number of mental-health facilities in Iowa, or the cost of your prescription drugs. Because it's not just a detail if it's your kid. ... It's a big deal, and it should be a big deal to your president."
She said at one point: "I get it that some people just don't know what to make of me. So let me tell you." She went on to say she comes from "a family of builders," starting with her grandfather, who worked in a lace mill for 50 years, and her father, who started a small business.
The convention planners accompanied their nominee's effort to soften her image by parading onto the convention stage an array of folks with stories of her personal engagement in lifting them up. "You've seen some of the people who've inspired me," Ms. Clinton said, "and let me into their lives and became part of mine."
In response to doubts about her ability to be commander of the armed forces, a phalanx of retired military leaders led by retired Marine Gen. John Allen, a former U.S. commander of forces in Afghanistan, proclaimed total support for her as qualified. Ms. Clinton took the occasion to chide Mr. Trump for claiming to "know more about ISIS than the generals do." "No, Donald," she deadpanned. "You don't."
Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech came in the wake of yet another Trump bombshell Wednesday, when he openly urged alleged Russian cyber-hackers to make public any further emails that could damage her campaign. It was a shockingly unprecedented invitation to a foreign power to intrude in an American presidential election. Mr. Trump later insisted the remark was only sarcasm.
Not so easily brushed off was a Trump hint that as president he might walk away from the NATO commitment to defend member Baltic States against any Russian intrusion.
Also on Wednesday night, Democratic convention speakers including President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, all took aim at Mr. Trump as unfit for the presidency.
Mr. Bloomberg, challenging the GOP nominee's claim to business acumen, recited Mr. Trump's many bankruptcies and called him a "dangerous demagogue" who would be "a risky, reckless and radical choice."
Another Democratic speaker, former defense secretary Leon Panetta, said of Mr. Trump's remarks regarding Russia that "as someone who was responsible for protecting our nation from cyber-attacks, it's inconceivable to me that any presidential candidate would be that irresponsible."
But once again, Mr. Trump's willingness to inject himself into the campaign conversation, even as the Democratic convention was going on, underscored his determination to dominate the political narrative. It seems to be in keeping with his declared conviction that "all press is good press."
As the post-convention phase of the 2016 campaign now unfolds, Mr. Trump's latest encouragement of Russian meddling is a high-stakes gamble. The Democrats regard it, hopefully, as going a bridge too far. Mr. Trump's backers, meanwhile, cling to their conviction that his free-wheeling involvement is what the contentious climate in the country calls for.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is email@example.com.