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.

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.