Wednesday

September 20th, 2017

Insight

Conventions show where the parties are vulnerable

Andrew Malcolm

By Andrew Malcolm McClatchy Washington Bureau/(TNS)

Published August 2, 2016

Hello, my name is Andrew and I'm a convention addict.

I watched every minute of both party's presidential conventions, thanks to C-SPAN.

I've tried to stop watching every four years. Honestly. Parts are boring. Virtually every speaker wants to ensure a future "for our children and our grandchildren." Please.

We hear so many impossible promises -- free college tuition, a quick defeat of the Islamic State. In modern American politics, these vows have a shorter expiration date than a 2 percent milk carton.

And we hear countless false claims. Nancy Pelosi, for instance, bemoaning the nation's 33,646 gun deaths each year. Which is a lot. What she fails to state, however, is 63 percent of those gun deaths are suicides, unlikely to be affected by new gun laws she seeks.

I really should stop watching and attending party conventions. But these quadrennial, scripted infomercials are so revealing of campaigns' promotional priorities for the 100-day run to the general election. And a convention can uncover where a campaign feels it's weak.

Conventions began in 1831 and actually mattered. Party loyalists assembled to pick nominees through lobbying and bargaining. Abraham Lincoln entered the 1860 convention in Chicago in third place with delegates.

That same year Democrats assembled in Charleston, S.C., couldn't agree on anything, adjourned to Baltimore and split the party into North and South wings. That was a precursor to the entire nation's split a few months later into a Civil War, which also began in Charleston.

The record convention was 1924 in New York, when those same fractious Democrats battled again along liberal-conservative lines. They took 15 days and 103 ballots to pick John Davis as a sacrificial lamb to incumbent Republican Calvin Coolidge, who was nominated in Cleveland.

Since 1972, conventions merely ratify primary elections and caucuses. You could see -- and hear -- the splits this year.

In Cleveland, the division was obvious by absent Republicans -- all past GOP presidents, the hosting Ohio governor and almost all this year's contenders except one. Ted Cruz did speak but ostentatiously declined to endorse his party's nominee.

In Philadelphia, the party chairwoman was forced to resign on convention eve for conspiring against socialist challenger Bernie Sanders. For much of the four days Sanders delegates staged walkouts, and the mere mention of Hillary Clinton's name from the podium drew audible boos.

The Clinton camp did much to reach out -- giving Sanders a prominent speaking slot, often praising the 74-year-old and loading the platform's left side with his ideas. She also allowed him a perfunctory, pointless roll call of the states to show he won 1,865 delegates (to her 2,842).

The temporary Democrat professed unity before resigning party membership. In her long acceptance speech Clinton praised Sanders' movement in a clear, if uncertain, bid to get his supporters with her for Nov. 8.

The GOP nominee's outreach to Never Trumpers was invisible. In fact, his ongoing outbursts may help Clinton by chasing GOP moderates and independents toward her.

Her unusually long acceptance speech, which appeared to put hubby Bill to sleep, included invitations to disenchanted conservatives. But it was otherwise a standard liberal laundry list of wishes including debt-free college, paid family leave and hitting the wealthy with higher taxes.

The woman who was paid $200,000 for each speech to Wall Street firms also promised to get big money out of politics by overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, even if it meant a constitutional amendment. That isn't going to happen, but the crowd cheered anyway.

Unless they're total newcomers, no single speech is going to change a politician's image, especially when he or she has been on the national public stage a quarter-century like Clinton.

Nomination acceptance speeches can, however, tell us where a candidate hopes to go. And they can affect a candidate's public perception, for better or worse.

With the best of intentions, I intend now to enter convention-watching withdrawal, fully expecting a relapse in about 48 months. Thank you all very much and may G0D bless the United States of America.

Andrew Malcolm
McClatchy Washington Bureau
(TNS)

Comment by clicking here.

Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s.

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