A Review of the Democratic, Republican Conventions
Modern-day nominating conventions have become nothing more than ‘infomercials’ for both political parties, and this year's Democratic and Republican national party conventions were indeed that. However, both presented stark contrasts in terms of the product they were selling to the American electorate for purchase this coming November.
As is tradition, the party out of power of the White House went first, and the one word that seems to sum up the Republican’s nomination of Donald J. Trump was anger.
First, the floor fight on Monday between the dominant Trump forces and the "anybody but Trump," led by the Cruz troops, became a very public display of party disunity. While much was made about the unforced error of Melania Trump’s speech and the verbatim section from Michelle Obama’s speech eight years ago, the speech by Rudy Giuliani seemed to capture a level of rage that bordered on absolute contempt for the opposition.
Tuesday's GOP convention proceedings continued the loathing of the Democrats and their party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton, but this time in the form of a public indictment by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the delegates verdict of "lock her up," which began the night before.
Wednesday's session saw a resurgence of anger, this time in the guise of party disunity that blew out into epic proportion, with Ted Cruz’s blistering retort to the Trump-dominated convention, with him walking off stage to a sea of boos. While party conventions are attempts to put the best face forward after brutal and divisive primary battles, the "vote your conscience" plea and the subsequent verbal lynching of Cruz by the delegates painted a stark picture that old political wounds never heal as quickly as one would hope.
And while Mike Pence's speech was a clear statement of traditional conservative ideals and ideology, the vice presidential nominee’s acceptance was figuratively drowned out by the delegate's derisions toward Cruz.
Finally, the moment that many had never predicted would come: Donald Trump's acceptance of the Republican Party’s nomination for president. And while not as meandering in his typical stream of consciousness approach (unlike many of his campaign rally speeches), the teleprompter-based address basically doubled down on many of the dogmatic and vague appeals that have served the candidate well in his pursuit of the Grand Old Party's nomination.
In the end, however, Trump’s litany of resentment and shouting rage may have fired up his base within the party and perhaps those outside the GOP who are resentful, but making an appeal of anger and antagonism may not play as well toward November’s general election as it did in the primaries.
In his last public address, the modern stalwart of the GOP, Ronald Reagan, made this plea: "And whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts."
For today's Republican Party, Cleveland’s convention played to the fears and doubts about America, all in the allure of making America great. Only November’s ballots, and the minds and decisions of voters, will decide whether this year’s history will be written in Reagan's optimism or Trump’s tirades.
Following what appeared to be a slight bounce to Trump coming out of Cleveland, the Democrats took Philadelphia a traditional manner.
Monday’s speech by Michelle Obama began the Democrats’ attempt to lay out a more positive view of the nation, compared to the GOP focus on anger and doom. In comparison to the ‘lock her up’ and Giuliani rage from the GOP’s first evening, the first lady’s speech seemed to overshadow the other major speakers that evening, namely Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, in presenting an optimistic view of the nation.
And while they were both the darlings of the party's ideological left, Senator Warren's speech seemed to fall flat at times, while Senator Sanders' supporters proved to be a continual irritant throughout the four days, at times prompting the larger contingency of delegates to drown them out with chants.
Tuesday's speech by former president Bill Clinton showed that while he has aged, he still has the charisma he was known for. While the beginning of the speech seemed like a year-by-year review of his courtship and marriage to Mrs. Clinton, it was the second half of the speech that seemed to lay the groundwork to building the case for his wife to assume the presidency.
The next night proved to be the biggest evening of heavy hitters at the podium, with the party elites rallying around their nominee. Both President Obama and Vice President Biden gave full-throated endorsements to their former Secretary of State Clinton, and Clinton’s pick as vice president, Senator Tim Kaine, showed an 'aw-shucks' personality that will probably be targeted at moderate, suburban voters in key battleground states.
A convention's final evening is always the biggest with the lead-in to the acceptance speech by the party’s nominee, but this year’s Democratic convention seemed more in line of the uber-patriotism and national defense postures that Republicans usually put on.
Highlighted by a powerful address by Khizr Khan to the GOP nominee, the Democrats laid claim to the idea of American exceptionalism, something that typically is a centerpiece of Republican conventions. Full-throated chants of "U.S.A.!" were designed to overcome the demonstrative objections by some hard-core Bernie Sanders’ supporters, but any outside observer of the flag-waving appeal from the convention floor could have been forgiven for mistaking the Democrats for Republicans that evening.
With the expectations set high from the president and vice president the night before, Secretary Clinton’s speech was one that captured the ideals of Sanders' policy issues, but delivered in rather a dampened charismatic approach, in comparison to her husband, Obama, and Biden.
In the end, while there may be a convention bounce for both nominees coming out of the past two weeks, the likelihood is that those who were watching were the intended customers: the bases of both parties.
Ultimately, both conventions achieved what the parties wanted: A clear and stark portrait of differences between the Democrats and the Republicans in just about every manner.