Following Convention (or Political Mathematics)

By Bobbie Kirkhart

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee
Pho­to cred­it: Sean MacEn­tee

The polit­i­cal par­ties spend count­less hours plan­ning their con­ven­tions. This is, after all, four nights of free adver­tis­ing and their first chance to intro­duce their can­di­dates to the pub­lic, who haven’t been pay­ing atten­tion through the pri­ma­ry elec­tions. Every­body works for a great start. It almost nev­er hap­pens. This year was no excep­tion. Inter­est­ing­ly, you could say that it was the same woman who saved both conventions. 

Both par­ties had to deal with large fac­tions who couldn’t count. For the Repub­li­cans, it was the “Nev­er Trump” move­ment. Though Trump had won the pri­ma­ry vote deci­sive­ly, and most del­e­gates were pledged to him by par­ty rules, some thought they could talk sense into these peo­ple. The effort was ham­pered by the fact that there was no alter­na­tive, as all the pos­si­bil­i­ties were more unpop­u­lar than Trump. “Nev­er Trump” made motions and noise, and it seemed they would leave a sour note on the entire con­ven­tion. Yet in the evening, the mood became much more pos­i­tive with Mela­nia Trump’s excel­lent speech. All seemed to be well.

No one even com­ment­ed that Kat Gates-Skip­per, who had been sched­uled, didn’t speak. She was the first woman Marine in com­bat oper­a­tions, and the com­mit­tee was hap­py to have her until they found out that the Repub­li­can plat­form is against women serv­ing in com­bat. There is an unwrit­ten rule that you can’t ignore the par­ty plat­form until the con­ven­tion is over.

The Democ­rats’ prob­lem with the peo­ple who can’t count was much worse. After months of telling his fol­low­ers that the elec­tion was rigged, pri­ma­ry con­tender Bernie Sanders was sur­prised that many of his fol­low­ers believed him, even after Bernie endorsed Hillary. It didn’t help that on the day the con­ven­tion start­ed, Wik­iLeaks released hacked e‑mails that proved it was true, sort of. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee, which is sup­posed to be an hon­est bro­ker in the pri­maries, favored Hillary. The committee’s bias was more talk than action, but it was clear­ly uneth­i­cal, and from that day until the elec­tion, there are Bernie or Bust peo­ple who loud­ly pro­claim that Hillary is a crook. LOUDLY.

After the first night, the Repub­li­cans limped along – no huge gaffs, no real tri­umphs. They suf­fered from the absence of many Repub­li­cans who had been alien­at­ed dur­ing the pri­maries and from the pres­ence of one – Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz, who spoke, urg­ing peo­ple to vote their con­science and point­ed­ly not endors­ing Trump.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic show came togeth­er – with the excep­tion of the Bernie or Bust peo­ple – after a parade of excel­lent speak­ers in the first evening pro­gram. The con­sen­sus was the best; most effec­tive was Michelle Oba­ma. This was the sec­ond con­ven­tion first-night she had brought togeth­er, as some smart aleck with a com­put­er had let it out that Mela­nia Trump’s speech includ­ed lines pla­gia­rized from Michelle Obama’s 2008 Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­ven­tion speech.

The hacked e‑mails on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee con­tin­ued to be a prob­lem. The Dems point­ed out that this infor­ma­tion was a result of Russ­ian hack­ing, try­ing to make Russ­ian inter­fer­ence in our elec­tions the sto­ry. They were unable to, and it was a dis­trac­tion to their con­ven­tion until Don­ald Trump came to the res­cue Wednes­day morn­ing by ask­ing the Rus­sians to release any hacked mate­r­i­al they had on Hillary’s miss­ing e‑mails. That put the issue right where the Dems want­ed it: all about the Rus­sians and their appar­ent rela­tion­ship with Trump.

The con­ven­tions went along par­al­lel lines in oppo­site spheres: the Repub­li­can about what’s wrong with Amer­i­ca, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic about what’s right with Amer­i­ca. Each side parad­ed par­ents who had lost chil­dren, some of whom had dis­tinct­ly par­ti­san mes­sages. Hillary was smart enough not to fight with bereaved par­ents, but The Don­ald, as we used to call him with fond­ness, took on Khizr and Ghaz­a­la Khan, whose son died a hero in the Iraq war. Kahn had assert­ed that Trump had “sac­ri­ficed noth­ing.” Most infa­mous of Trump’s respons­es was his defense that he had sac­ri­ficed because he had worked very hard and become suc­cess­ful. If his­to­ri­ans some­day chron­i­cle Trump’s loss (as now seems like­ly), the dis­af­fec­tion of so many Repub­li­cans, and the media’s open crit­i­cism, they will like­ly cite his deci­sion to take on the Khans as the deci­sive moment – although there is no short­age of plau­si­ble explanations.

Both par­ties parad­ed celebri­ties who had no real con­nec­tion with pol­i­tics. The Repub­li­cans host­ed Willie Robert­son, Scott Baio, Anto­nio Saba­to, Dana White, Natal­ie Gul­bis, Kim­ber­lin Brown, and Brock Mealor. If you don’t rec­og­nize these names, you are not alone. The Dems’ list includ­ed Lady Gaga, Jen­nifer Lopez, Meryl Streep, Lena Dun­ham, Eliz­a­beth Banks, Lee Daniels, Amer­i­ca Fer­rera, Bradley Coop­er, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sigour­ney Weaver, Angela Bas­sett, Katy Per­ry, and Paul Simon. Some stars were at the con­ven­tion to protest on behalf of Bernie, includ­ing Susan Saran­don and Rosario Dawson.

While the Repub­li­cans spoke gloom and doom, Barack Oba­ma quot­ed Ronald Reagan’s asser­tion that “It’s morn­ing in Amer­i­ca.” At least one pun­dit called the Repub­li­can event “goth­ic” while sev­er­al cit­ed the opti­mistic patri­o­tism the Democ­rats tout­ed as “Repub­li­can.”

The impor­tant con­trast came on the last night, when the can­di­dates gave their accep­tance speech­es. Each was intro­duced by their daugh­ter, The Don­ald by Ivan­ka Trump and Hillary by Chelsea. (The coun­try doesn’t know if she changed her last name when she mar­ried. The rest of us will always call her Chelsea Clinton.)

Trump warned that we are at a “moment of cri­sis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the ter­ror­ism in our cities, threat­en our very way of life.”

He informed us that we think our econ­o­my is good because of “the plain facts that have been edit­ed out of your night­ly news and your morn­ing newspaper.”

He has “seen first­hand how the sys­tem is rigged against our cit­i­zens, just like it was rigged against Bernie Sanders.”

He reas­sured us all as he told us, “I alone can fix it … . I am your voice … . I’m with you, I will fight for you, and I will win for you.”

His aides were thrilled with his per­for­mance because he stuck to the script, which is dif­fi­cult for him.

Hillary always sticks to the script. Her aides would be hap­py if she went off-script once in a while. As the first woman ever nom­i­nat­ed for Pres­i­dent by a major par­ty, she had two dis­tinct advan­tages: Her speech was viewed as his­to­ry mak­ing, and she was for­tu­nate enough to go second.

In a not-veiled ref­er­ence to Trump, she warned of “pow­er­ful forces” that are try­ing to “pull us apart,” before she empha­sized a theme of the con­ven­tion, “Stronger Togeth­er.” She cit­ed his­to­ry and tra­di­tion when stat­ing: “Our country’s mot­to is e pluribus Unum, out of many, we are one. Will we stay true to that motto?”

Point­ing out the con­trast to the Repub­li­cans, she declared, “Amer­i­cans don’t say: ‘I alone can fix it.’ We say: ‘We’ll fix it together.’”

She remind­ed us of the his­to­ry of the moment, of her strong fem­i­nin­i­ty and fem­i­nism: “Stand­ing here as my mother’s daugh­ter, and my daughter’s moth­er, I’m so hap­py this day has come. Hap­py for grand­moth­ers and lit­tle girls and every­one in between.”

It would have been a poet­ic end­ing, but she con­tin­ued to tell us what was wrong with Trump. Judg­ing by the opin­ion polls, most Amer­i­cans already knew.

Going into the con­ven­tions, Trump was slight­ly behind. After the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion, he was three points ahead; after the Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­ven­tion, Hillary was ten points ahead.

Anoth­er inter­est­ing sta­tis­tic: For the first time in his­to­ry, more peo­ple (50%) were less like­ly to vote for the nom­i­nee after the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion than were more like­ly. If these num­bers don’t seem to add up, don’t wor­ry about it. Noth­ing else does, either.

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Bob­bie Kirkhart is vice pres­i­dent of the Athe­ist Alliance of Amer­i­ca and serves on the board of Camp Quest, Inc., a sum­mer camp for chil­dren of free­think­ing fam­i­lies. She is a past pres­i­dent of the Athe­ist Alliance Inter­na­tion­al as well as a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to U.S. freethought publications.