This week kicks off the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Hurricane Isaac has already shortened the RNC from 4 nights to 3 nights. Is Isaac on to something? Absolutely. We will take a look at the relevance, need and root of these conventions a few times this week. To start, a few thoughts from Ruck.us advisor Mark McKinnon and NBC contributor Tom Brokaw.
Having been heavily involved in the planning of a couple of G.O.P. conventions, my view is, we should just scrap ‘em. Cancel ‘em. Just figure out an appropriate forum for the nominee to give an acceptance speech and be done with it.
Watching the conventions is like tuning in to a movie where you already know the plot and the ending.
The initial attraction of a political convention was that often the outcome was not preordained. There was at least some element of surprise. But, now it’s like tuning in to a movie where you already know the plot and the ending. It’s just not that interesting. Four days of a bunch of mostly boring politicians giving speeches from a huge stage in a cavernous auditorium? Please.
Every conversation I had about the conventions at the initial planning stages went something like this: “Why does it have to be four days? And why does it have to be in a convention hall? Why does there have to be a roll call vote? Why can’t we do something different?”
The answer to all those questions is the convention doesn’t have to do any of those things.
But because of not much more than the physics of tradition, the parties just keep rolling over and pretty much keep doing what they’ve been doing for decades.
Oh, they’ll reveal with great hoopla a new never-seen-before podium design. Or do something from a remote location. They will try something edgy with music or entertainment. But, at the end of the day, it’s going feel as new and different as a Barnum & Bailey circus.
Let’s face it, modern political conventions have become extravagant infomercials staged in a setting deliberately designed to seal them off from any intrusion not scrubbed and sanitized. I half expect to hear an-off screen announcer in breathless tones say, “Vote for the Romney-Ryan or Obama-Biden ticket NOW and receive FREE a Cumquat Juicer with turbo blades and built-in slot for campaign contributions.”
Reporters will roam the convention halls in search of an authentic moment. If they find one it will be played out of proportion to its enduring importance.
Think about it: delegates will arrive in Tampa and Charlotte with their nominees already in place. The platforms will arrive pre-packaged. The delegations will be briefed on how to sit, when to stand and cheer, what to say to reporters and how to criticize the opposition. Reporters, editors, commentators, bloggers and special interest operatives will roam the halls and party circuit in search of an authentic moment or voice. If they find one it will probably be played out of proportion to its enduring importance.
There will be none of the drama of the 1960 Democratic convention when John F. Kennedy unexpectedly chose Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate or certainly nothing resembling the riotous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.
Republicans gathering in San Francisco in 1964 engaged in an openly heated struggle for the future of the party between the Goldwater and Rockefeller factions. In Detroit, in 1980, the carefully managed Reagan campaign kept the convention and the nation in a long night of suspense with the vice presidential selection.
After all of this, if you’re wondering: Yes, I will be going to Tampa and Charlotte to be part of the NBC News coverage, as I have every convention for both parties since 1968. The most useful parts of the weeks for me will be private conversations with delegates, pollsters and campaign staffers on what to expect and where once the final gavel comes down. I’m sure I’ll have a good time and make some new friends, but I will never stop wondering, “Isn’t there a better way?”
Maybe four years from now the parties will decide it is in their interest and the nation’s to set aside just one day and prime-time night for speeches by their nominees in a central location. They could have a satellite hook up to state-by-state or regional get-out-the-vote rallies across the country and maybe, just maybe, excite the nation about the coming campaign.