The Political Conventions Are Starting. Here’s What to Expect.


“I accept —” “— your nomination —” “— for president —” “— of the United States.” [cheers and applause] The conventions. “It’s when a lot of people start taking the race seriously.” “I’ve been to pretty much every convention since 1988.” “Read my lips.” “Normally, a convention is wild.” But in 2020, things are a little different. “The pandemic has changed virtually every aspect of the 2020 campaign.” “I think it’s defining the election. And I think you’re seeing that in the way they’re approaching the conventions.” “You could say that it has caused a reckoning about, do political conventions even matter at all? Can’t we just do this whole process without them?” So, how did the conventions grow to the spectacles they are today? “What do you mean, ‘shut up’?” And what will this year hold? “Conventions have been around for about a century in various forms.” “1944: The Democratic Convention in Chicago, Illinois, lifted the roof.” “I mean, it used to be, like, you’d have these really dramatic nomination fights.” “I feel absolutely confident that, in this convention, I’m going to be the winner.” “And floor fights.” “I don’t care!” “Keep your hands off of me!” “And things about platform and who should be allowed. The networks used to give these things around-the-clock attention, gavel to gavel. And most of that stuff is gone.” Over time, the process evolved. And now candidates are chosen based on the results of primaries and caucuses, so there aren’t many surprises. “And what has happened to the conventions is they have become this sort of four-night advertisement for the candidates —” “Thank you.” “— and their parties.” “If you believe that we must be fierce and relentless and terminate terrorism, then you are a Republican.” [cheers] But generally, that format hasn’t really changed. “The critique of conventions is that they’re just kind of like a dinosaur.” [music, Los Del Rio, “Macarena”] “They’re a relic of a past age of politics.” The challenge for campaigns this year — “Good afternoon, everybody.” — is how to pack in substance and excitement virtually. “How do you do a convention in the midst of a pandemic?” “The campaigns have really struggled to carry on since the pandemic.” “Good morning.” “Joe Biden is a helpless puppet —” “In contrast to Trump’s desire to keep campaigning, Biden has been at home, for the most part.” “The Democratic Party has approached the convention and Covid —” “Hey, good evening, Tampa.” “— much more conservatively, small C, than the Republican Party.” “We saved millions of lives. And now, it’s time to open up, get back to work, OK?” So what is actually going to happen? Well, the plan has changed — a lot. “The Democrats had hoped to have a big, splashy convention in Milwaukee. Then the virus intervened.” So the Democrats went to an almost entirely virtual convention. “And we ultimately received the call that even Joe Biden would not actually be traveling to Milwaukee to give his speech in person.” Instead, now all speakers, including Biden, will deliver their addresses from around the country. And the R.N.C.? “The Republicans had hoped to hold the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.” But after North Carolina required masks and social distancing rules, the R.N.C. moved the main events to Jacksonville. Then cases spiked in Florida. “I looked at my team, and I said, ‘The timing for this event is not right.’” So now, they’ll be mostly virtual as well. And Trump will give his speech accepting the party nomination from Washington, D.C. “The challenge for both of these conventions is, what can you do to engage the American electorate that is already very tired of sitting on Zooms all day? What can you do to ensure that they tune in anyway and get energized?” “— is Jimmy Carter and I’m running for president.” “In terms of presenting the candidate to the nation, there are two moments to watch. One’s the roll call.” “We’re now prepared to call the roll of the state.” “Roll call vote!” This is where the delegates formally nominate the candidate. “California casts 33-and- one-half votes for Kennedy.” “And it’s kind of corny, but it’s kind of cool. But it’s kind of corny.” “75 votes for President George W. Bush!” “This year, I guess, it’ll be a Zoom call. And the other is the speech.” “Extremism in the defense of liberty —” “Let us build a peace.” “Let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth.” “This is the biggest audience they will have for their pitch to Americans.” “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation —” “This is their chance to lay out their vision for the future of the country.” “— I alone can fix it.” This year, Biden and Trump will give these speeches to, well, primarily a TV camera. “Giving a speech without an audience and without having a constant loop of audience feedback does look poised to present a challenge for both of the presidential contenders.” So are there any potential benefits to this? “One of the sort of benefits of the pandemic is that people in, well, a lot of the country are still locked at home. The question is, Are you going to watch reruns of ‘The Sopranos,’ or are you going to watch the convention?” “I think there’s a lot of fear and a lot of interest. And people really want to know how these different leaders are going to lead us through this pandemic and through the economic crisis that accompanied it.” But there’s also potentially a whole lot of downside. “You lose the energy that, presumably, you send delegates out into the world with to begin the fall campaign.” “For the president, what he’s missing out on is showing off this contrast from four years ago, when there was a lot of dissent against him.” “Stand and speak and vote your conscience.” “He would be able to show that, four years later, the party is in lockstep with him.” “They don’t call it Super Tuesday for nothing!” “Joe Biden is missing these big moments that would show someone who has struggled to look like a real candidate with a lot of enthusiasm behind him.” “Just this morning we heard we won Maine as well.” “Yeah, right!” So is it time to rethink conventions altogether? “I think the conventions matter less this year than ever — partly because neither one of them is happening in a normal way, but also because this election seems more than anything to be a referendum about Donald Trump. It’s really Donald Trump against Donald Trump.” “You’re fired! Get out!” “We’re just getting started.” And don’t expect the rest of the campaign to resume any sort of normalcy soon. “Historically, the conventions do mark the beginning of a really intense general election campaign cycle. But the subsequent activities after the convention — door-to-door engaging of those voters, how those voters actually cast their ballots — all of that is set to look extraordinarily different this year.” “So, we are in my tiny, postage stamp-sized backyard in Washington.” “We’re in my backyard in Hollywood, California.” “And I am currently at home in New York City, about to head to Delaware.” “It’s very hot. It’s very buggy. But we’re making the best of it.” “Hi. I’m Sarah Kerr, the producer of this video. We spent weeks looking back through footage of old conventions and learning how they might be different this year. Now, they’re finally here. And they’re definitely going to be unconventional. Check out nytimes.com every night for live video and analysis. We’ll see you there.”



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