The Weird World of Political Conventions

CHARLESTON, WV – Call me old school, but I hated most of this Democratic National Convention, and suspect the same for next week’s Republican National Convention. I have watched every convention since 1964, and have attended ten of them as a reporter. I love the excitement and electricity. I love […]

CHARLESTON, WV – Call me old school, but I hated most of this Democratic National Convention, and suspect the same for next week’s Republican National Convention. I have watched every convention since 1964, and have attended ten of them as a reporter. I love the excitement and electricity. I love when you hear in the roll call vote, “The great State of Idaho, the potato capitol of the world, proudly casts its 19 delegates for the next President of the United States, Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas!’ And they cut to the wide-shot and half the delegates are wearing Mr. Potato Head hats!!! It’s the color, the corny pomp and circumstance of American politics, but this year we have zero, and that makes me sad. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Politics Stops at the Water’s Edge?” – We used to have a tradition in this country where ex-presidents did not criticize those now in the Oval Office. That went out the window Wednesday night when former President Barack Obama said President Donald Trump, “He hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.” He added, “For close to four years now, he has shown no interest in putting in the work. No interest in finding common ground. No interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends.” Ouch!!!

“Trump Tweets!” – Of course, barbs like that brought tweets from Trump. “HE SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN, AND GOT CAUGHT!” said the president on Twitter. And, the tone of the fall campaign is set. President Trump would do well to remember his opponent is Joe Biden. If he gets into a war of words with his predecessor, it could become a political “fatal distraction.” In the game of politics, as in the game of golf, you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball!

“What’s Good for the Goose?” – One of the unnamed young people who appeared via Zoom made a startling statement, “We’re going to end the corporate lobbying of the NRA!” First, good luck. Secondly, the Supreme Court has ruled time and time again, that political speech is amongst the most protected speech. People who either lobby or give money to candidates and causes, are “speaking” via their donations. I’m not here to defend the NRA, but I am defending its right to engage in political discourse. If you ban corporate lobbying for the NRA, the same ban would affect Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL, and a host of liberal causes. Any such law would affect both sides of the aisle. You can’t just pick and choose.

“A Logistical Mistake” – Originally Milwaukee was picked to be the site of the Democratic National Convention, and there are still some very limited activities there. But then Joe Biden and Kamala Harris opted to give their acceptance speeches at a decorated, but empty Chase Convention Center in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden’s home state. I consider this a huge tactical mistake. The Biden ticket is going to win Delaware hands down. But Democrats really need to take back Wisconsin as one of the five most critical states to winning the White House. Remember what happened four years ago? Hillary Clinton never returned to Wisconsin to campaign after the April Primary, and Trump campaigned there often and won the state. I lived nearly half my life in Wisconsin, and voters there don’t liked to be snubbed.

“A Mistake in Ambiance” – Senator Kamala Harris gave an impassioned speech, and I think connected with people with the stories about her parents. It’s another great American immigrant story. But there was no audience to applaud, and in that respect it fell flat. Here’s what I would have done. Rent a venue that seats 4,000 people, but only allow 1,000 inside. Seat them every other row, and every third seat to maintain proper social distance. And yes, everyone wears a face mask. Colorful political placards and campaign signs should be allowed as well. On TV, we would hear people cheering and applauding, and even at one-fourth capacity, the rest of the room becomes an echo chamber. Think of a high school pep rally in the gym on Friday, before that night’s big football game. You’d blow the doors out. Instead, we got “the sound of one hand clapping!” It will be interesting to see if the GOP tries what I am suggesting. A Trump speech, with no audience, would be so out of character since he feeds off the crowd.

“She Didn’t Mention Kamala Harris?” – To me the most stunning development this week was former First Lady Michelle Obama’s failure to mention VP pick Kamala Harris in her speech. Mrs. Obama lavished praise on Joe Biden, who served her husband loyally, yet nary a mention of Harris. As only the fourth woman to appear on a major party ticket, and the first woman of color, I would have anticipated Harris would dominate Michelle Obama’s speech. We later learned that Mrs. Obama taped her speech before Harris was chosen. Honestly, in the world of modern electronics and Zoom and everything else, why would they have to tape a canned speech weeks ahead of time? Even after Harris was chosen, I would have asked for a “do over!” Instead many people (and political pundits) came away with the impression that Obama dissed Harris!

“Final Night Success!” – That said about all the above criticism, I thought the final night was well done! The cute little boy reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the Chicks, (minus the Dixie), singing an A Capella national anthem was stunning. And having all of Biden’s defeated opponents in a Zoom box that looked like “Hollywood Squares” was a hoot! The tribute to his late son Beau Biden was especially touching. It gave you a look into the nominee’s soul, something rare in politics. And taking the ticket outside for the impromptu drive-in rally and fireworks was brilliant, since the whole convention lacked the crowd buzz it so badly needed.

“Ratings Matter, or Do They?” – My critique of the convention is about production values, broadcast quality, political strategy and imagery. It’s not about the issue positions or personalities of the nominees and other speakers. At times the quality was horrible, and at other times it was quite good, but we are in new territory here, so mistakes happen. Republicans may have similar gremlins next week. The big question is, was anyone watching? The Nielsen ratings for the first night were awful. Viewership was down 24 percent or seven million people compared to 2016. On night number two, just for the broadcast networks, the audience was 6.33 million, down 48 percent from 2016. However, many people are watching online or on their phones, and a Biden campaign spokesman says its analytics showed 10.2 million people watched via streaming Tuesday night. The technical times are a changing!

What were your impressions? Just click the comment button and let us know!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the six Nexstar media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for “The White House Patch” at www.Patch.com.

© Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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