Earlier this week I made the case for abolishing national political party conventions on the grounds that they serve no real function and follow entirely archaic patterns that no longer make much sense.
Well, it’s obviously too late to kill off these quadrennial snoozers this year, but leave it to Donald J. Trump to undertake the next best thing: transforming the Republican convention into a cheesy four-day TV special featuring maximum exposure of his own self. If by necessity it’s going to be an empty spectacle, it doesn’t have to be a boring empty spectacle, does it? Nosiree, according to a report from Politico:
“This is the part of politics he would naturally enjoy, and he wants to control it 100 percent,” said a high-level Trump campaign source. “This is a massive television production and he is a television star.”
And the star isn’t about to be confined to a single Thursday night acceptance speech.
Whereas the vice presidential nominee has generally spoken on the third night of the convention and the presidential candidate has taken the stage on the fourth and final night, Trump is considering a scenario that puts him on stage, delivering remarks on all four nights, reaching millions of potential voters, and driving ratings, according to one source.
Recall that presidential nominees did not even appear at conventions until FDR broke that taboo in 1936. As for appearing prior to the acceptance speech, there are only two precedents I can think of: Ronald Reagan showing up in 1980 to announce George H.W. Bush as his running mate (or, to be more precise, to preempt out-of-control speculation that former president Gerald Ford would join the ticket and perhaps create a “co-presidency”), and Bill Clinton’s brief live remarks each evening from a train hurtling toward the Chicago convention site in 1996.
Framing the whole event around the maximum number of prime-time speeches by the nominee simply pushes the devolution of conventions to a logical end — an event that’s entirely about the nominee and not at all about the party. And the good thing about nominating a candidate the entire party Establishment opposed is that he’s probably not going to let the traditional courtesies afforded to other politicians of his party get in the way of the convention’s show-business potential. It’s not like any of these birds lifted a finger to help Trump win the nomination, right?
Once you get rid of all the precedents, there are plenty of ways to exploit the convention for drama and high ratings:
And Trump plans to create news events too, not just line up speeches by up-and-coming members of the GOP. He’s toying with unveiling a running mate at the convention rather than before. He’s even considering whether to announce his would-be Cabinet.
Ah yes. One could imagine the darkened arena, and then the dramatic voice-of-God PA announcer intoning: At attorney general, 5-foot-11, 300 pounds, out of Mendham, New Jersey — Chriiiiiiiis CHRISTIE! as flares shoot up from the arena floor and the New Jersey governor trots onto the floor wearing a warm-up suit with TRUMP emblazoned across the front and back.
For journalists and others who have to cover politics extensively, a Trump convention is like a consolation prize for the loss of the contested convention we were all so happily anticipating. The big difference is that to prepare you’d probably best watch some old XFL broadcasts instead of immersing yourselves in convention rules and procedures. Brainwork will be strictly optional.