Thursday, August 6, 2020

Honey, they shrunk the conventions -- Aug. 6, 2020 column


Both political parties are scrambling to put together national political conventions virtually, on the spur of the moment, after throwing out long-developed plans for the usual in-person gatherings.

What could go wrong?

The way 2020 is going, it’s not hard to imagine the conventions as more trial and tribulation.

Democrats will celebrate at a social distance Aug. 17 through 20, and Republicans with a hybrid of in-person and remote events, Aug. 24 through 27.

Democrats and Republicans each initially expected upwards of 50,000 delegates, media, elected officials and celebrities to converge as they formally nominate their candidates for president and vice president.

But the novel coronavirus upended the coronations. As few as a couple hundred people may attend each convention in person. There could be more protesters than conventioneers.

The only smidgen of suspense is who Joe Biden’s running mate will be, and he’s likely to announce his choice beforehand.

President Donald Trump yanked the Republican convention from Charlotte when North Carolina’s sensible Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper refused to say Trump could fill up the convention hall.

Trump moved the shindig to Jacksonville, then canceled that “celebration” when COVID-19 cases surged in Florida.

Republican officials still plan to formally nominate Trump in Charlotte but are considering other cities for parts of their spectacle. Trump may deliver his acceptance speech from the White House South Lawn, in a huge break from tradition.

Congressional Democrats and even some Republicans say it’s possibly illegal and at least unethical to use the White House for political gatherings, though Democrats grumble Trump gives campaign speeches masquerading as news conferences at the White House nearly every day.

The pandemic has kept Biden close to home, but he was expected to break out and travel to Milwaukee to give his acceptance speech. He announced Wednesday he won’t even go to his own convention.

After consulting with health advisers, Biden decided the safe and responsible move was to give the most important speech of his life from Delaware. Other top Democratic speakers also will speak remotely.

The convention will still be “exciting,” Biden promised, offering no details.

Since COVID-19 has made 2020 one long root canal, it’s not surprising the national conventions would be strange. How strange? Even the police bailed.

In Milwaukee, more than 100 police agencies from Wisconsin and around the country that had planned to provide security quit after the Milwaukee police chief said they could not use tear gas or pepper spray to subdue protesters at the Democratic convention.

Before Trump pulled the plug on Jacksonville, the mayor as well as the local sheriff said Republicans lacked an adequate security plan for the convention and they couldn’t guarantee security.

So, what will the conventions look like? A few details are trickling out.

The GOP plans to rebrand as “the party of real, hardworking Americans.” A “nightly surprise” at 10 will feature guests and themes around “the forgotten men and women of America,” Axios reported, citing two senior Trump campaign officials.

Monday’s theme is America as “a land of heroes,” Tuesday “land of promise,” Wednesday “land of opportunity” and Thursday “land of greatness” with Trump’s plans for “the great American comeback,” Axios reported.

Democrats say they will have a “custom virtual video control room” designed to take in hundreds of live and recorded feeds from around the country at their Convention Across America that now will be “anchored” in Milwaukee.

Unlike previous conventions when speakers drone on day and night, Democrats plan only two hours of programming a night.

For decades, the value of the conventions has dwindled. Candidates clinch their nomination early, and the thousands of delegates and alternates in funny hats are little more than props for prime-time infomercials. That will be especially true for this year’s shrinking conventions.

But during the pandemic, with most of us stuck at home, Americans may enjoy watching makeshift political performances. Typically, voters watch only the party they already support, so no minds are likely to be changed.

What ultimately will be important is that the conventions signal the start of the fall campaign. No matter how jerry-rigged the conventions are, once they end it will be time to get serious.

©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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