Have political conventions outlived their usefulness?
After the Republican convention was shortened because of Hurricane Isaac, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters in Tampa, “These are very expensive propositions to put on. I’m not sure that having a four-day convention, for the future, makes a lot of sense.” The Post asked former politicians and others for their thoughts on the future of political conventions.
Chairman emeritus of the Democratic National Committee; former governor of Vermont
Every four years there is a predictable call, usually from jaded members of the media, to abandon the quadrennial political conventions. They argue that the rhetoric and pageantry are empty and that there is too little drama in the all-but-assured nominations. While there is a kernel of truth to these arguments, political conventions serve useful purposes and will be with us a while longer.
The conventions — which I predict will be three-day events from now on — allow each party to directly present their message and candidates to the American people without media interpretation. Appalled as I was by the disingenuous content of Paul Ryan’s speech, the American people deserve the chance to have an unfiltered look at the candidates as they wish to represent themselves.
The networking that takes place outside of the halls is essential for future party-building as activists and party stalwarts build relationships.
I guarantee you that for every young delegate who tried to schmooze his or her way to the top in Tampa or Charlotte, there was a young delegate telling Republicans that they have to step out of the hate business when it comes to gays and immigrants, or telling Democrats they have to reform entitlements.
Director of the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics; communications director for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign
Watching this year’s conventions was a little like watching a basketball team practice without an opponent on the court. You may recognize players, but there’s no way to tell how good the team is until you see it against the competition. Hearing one side of a two-way argument over the course of a week is largely unsatisfying for the media and for voters. So, except for the most fervent supporters of both parties, the country has pretty much stopped paying attention.
The conventions clearly can’t continue in their current format, but they provide a necessary opportunity for the two parties to express themselves to voters. The answer is not to hold them sequentially but, rather, simultaneously.
If the conventions were held at the same time, the two parties would be forced to adjust and readjust their presentations, to decide whether to stay on message or to respond to the opposition, and to engage in a week-long contest of beliefs, priorities and worldviews. Provide one hour for each of the nominees on Wednesday and Thursday nights to deliver their acceptance speeches to the entire country without interference, but otherwise force both sides to admit that there is another perspective to the discussion, one that needs to be acknowledged and answered — in real time.
The test of an idea is not how it sounds in a vacuum but how it stands up to analysis and criticism. This would make the conventions more interesting — and far more relevant for those voters looking for information rather than simply affirmation.
Former senior adviser to Vice President Al Gore and founding partner of the Glover Park Group
We haven’t seen the last of the major-party conventions, but we are witnessing a major shift in how they are consumed and viewed by those outside of the hall. Live television coverage by the major broadcast networks has shrunk dramatically in recent cycles as they see diminishing interest in orchestrated and highly produced political content. Social media are playing an increasingly important role in the coverage, and there is as much interest in what goes on behind the curtain as in what takes place on the podium. Campaigns are adjusting their strategies accordingly, expanding the window of activity around the conventions, beefing up pre- and post-convention travel, and putting more resources into shaping how convention events are seen through the filter of the media.
The made-for-TV spectacle will downsize considerably in the coming years as the platforms that bring that content to the public become more diffuse, but conventions will continue. The nominee’s acceptance speech is still a major impact moment in a presidential campaign. Conventions are still a focal point for the operatives, donors and activists that make up the core of the nominating electorate. Plenty of consequential political activity took place off camera and in the restaurants, bars and meeting spaces around Tampa and Charlotte. The Invisible Primary of 2016 is already underway.
Former speaker of the House and Republican candidate for president
It would be a major mistake to weaken the fabric of self-government by shortening the conventions. National political conventions have clearly changed from when they determined the general-election candidate. But while the actual “work” of the convention could easily be done in a single day, the concept of the compressed convention misses several values of what’s typically a four-day process.
First, there is an educational aspect of having different things on different nights. If the Republicans had held a one-day convention, the country would have been denied the opportunity to begin to come to grips with Ann Romney as a potential first lady. Paul Ryan’s speech was the introduction of a brilliant young national leader, filled with personal and policy matters that could not have received focus if the address had been a brief forerunner to Mitt Romney’s speech. Multi-day conventions teach lessons about the candidates’ thinking and vision: The use of Artur Davis, Condi Rice, Susana Martinez, Mia Love, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio and other minority speakers says a lot about the Romney team’s effort to reach out to the whole country.
Another advantage of a longer convention is that it is a quadrennial family reunion. For 156 years, the Republican Party has been gathering every four years. Our Democratic Party friends have an even longer tradition. When our two great national parties come together in one place, old friends catch up with each other and new friendships are formed. There is an organic component to self-government that is greatly underestimated by those who don’t actually participate in it.
Chairman and president of the Trump Organization;
Conventions will be with us, and rightfully so, for a long time. They are a great tool for allowing people to get to know each other, and the days-long approach is conducive to a greater understanding of the political process. Much is learned about the parties and the country, while also providing a strong base camp for the nominees.
In a sense, conventions offer us a celebratory platform for our political heritage. You see a great deal of pride and enthusiasm from the Americans who participate. Conventions give us a sense of unity that, being such a large country, we don’t often have the opportunity to enjoy. The excitement is palpable and the dedication we see is real. Whether Republican or Democrat, this country deserves this kind of passion.