Party political conventions are intended to be packaged and presented as entertainingly as possible. We saw this in the two recently completed events. Their primary goal, of course, is to give their presidential nominees a thrust into the remaining weeks of the campaign.
In this case, though not all would agree, it appears Hillary Clinton and the Democrats seized the momentum. That's not to say there weren't highlights and impressive appearances at the GOP gathering. There was strong favorable reaction to speeches by members of Donald Trump's family, notably daughter Ivanka.
However, despite rumblings of discontent among some Bernie Sanders delegates, the Democratic event was well-planned and executed. Democratic stagecraft was at a higher level despite Trump's grandiose WWE-style entry in Cleveland.
As can happen at these events, something quite unexpected can grab attention and become iconic. This occurred when Khizr Khan, the father of U.S. Army Captain Humanyun Khan, made a memorable and moving speech, which escalated into a major controversy involving Trump. Khan's son was killed in Iraq in 2004. He and his wife stood before the Democratic convention as grieving Muslim-American parents. In his poignant but forceful remarks, Khan was highly critical of Trump, saying that under Trump's immigration policy Khan's son "never could have become an American."
In a compelling conclusion directed at Trump, Khan asked if he GOP candidate has "even read the United States Constitution," offering to lend him his copy.
Trump tends to double down with a pattern of harsh attacks on anyone criticizing him. When the Khan family story began to get major attention, Trump belittled the parents of the slain soldier. He suggested that when the mother stood silently while her husband addressed the convention, "maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say," Mrs. Khan later said she didn't speak then because she is still overwhelmed by her grief and seeing the larger photograph of her son made her even more disconsolate. She appeared on several TV networks to explain her feelings. Trump's comments drew criticism from many quarters, including Republican leaders. It caused some observers to refer back to that dramatic and memorable moment in the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings when special counsel Joseph Welch, after witnessing McCarthy's unsubstantiated charges and berating of witnesses, asked McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"
The Trump campaign came out of the GOP convention with a bullish view of the campaign's direction, though new controversies surface almost daily. Trump's acceptance speech was strong in rallying the base, while Clinton was clearly mining for those at home not sure of their candidate choice. Democrats had a strong lineup of effective speakers, including Michelle Obama, who was very impressive, along with her husband; plus Hillary's husband, the former president; plus Sen. Cory Booker. Retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen delivered a ringing endorsement of Clinton and devastating critique of Trump as an impressive retired military contingent stood behind him.
The Democratic convention was generally upbeat and optimistic, while Republicans evoked fear and loathing. Indeed, one of the more interesting developments was seeing the Democrats emphasizing patriotism, waving the flag and featuring the military. In the past it was usually the GOP playing up patriotism. For many years the Republicans had captured the flag. There were jokes in the 1988 campaign that flag-makers were able to remain in business only because of massive orders from George H.W. Bush's campaign, or that at one point Bush couldn't be seen by the audience because he was surrounded by flags.
However, even in this age of demonization of opponents and devaluing of political dialogue, a low point was the reliance on the "Lock her up" chant at the Republican meet. Trump later said he was starting to agree with those chants. This was at the same time that Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, said, "I don't think name calling has any place in public life." He was offended that President Obama had indirectly referred to Trump as a demagogue. But Pence seemed to have just landed from another planet: At the same time he was speaking out against name calling, Trump was delivering a barrage of attacks against "Little Mike Bloomberg" and "Crooked Hillary."
Then there's the bizarre episode involving it seems, Russians and hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and rather befuddling statements made by Trump. At one point Trump said he was just being sarcastic in urging Russia to find emails on Clinton's private server. But it brought up the larger question of Trump and the Russians because Trump has regularly cozied up to Vladimir Putin and sided with him on several issues. Who knows where this story may take us?
For Clinton, there's no doubt that the trust issue remains a major problem, but the convention gave her a good sendoff as she spreads the social gospel and Trump uses social media. We're bound to see unexpected developments, ups and downs polling swings, and we'll keep waiting for Trump's tax returns.
Commentary on 08/03/2016
Print Headline: Convention momentum?