It will be fascinating — OK, mildly interesting, unless you’re a junkie like me — to see what kind of virtual conventions the Democrats and Republicans can pull off over the next few weeks. We won’t have to wait long. Democrats are scheduled to start on Monday, Republicans a week later.
It’s definitely a challenge. No balloons, no confetti, no silly hats, no in-person conventional roll call, no hands thrown up in solidarity, no chanting by cheerleading delegates (which in the case of, say, “lock her up” won’t be missed), no smoke-filled rooms as if smoking were still allowed inside rooms, no red-meat speeches reinforced by an applauding crowd, no applause at all unless they bring in that fake crowd noise some sports teams use when playing in empty stadiums or arenas, no, well, people, although I’m guessing Trump will bring with him at least a smallish audience.
But maybe the strangest thing about the Democrats is not the people-free, Zoomed convention itself, but how unified the party is this year, even as delegates are spread across the country. Anyone who can remember as far back as the summer of 2016 — yes, children, there was a time when Trump was not yet president — knows just how divided the Democrats were, along the progressive vs. moderate, Bernie vs. Hillary lines.
The reason for the near-unanimity this time around requires just one word: Trump. We’ll see Bernie Sanders speaking at the convention. We’ll see AOC, if briefly. Most progressives who think Biden is too centrist and Harris not sufficiently progressive — both fair positions if you’re a progressive — seem to be on board this time. In 2016, Trump was seen as a no-chancer and therefore, for some, a time for political purity— see: Sarandon, Susan. For Democrats, this a virtual, in both senses of the word, do-over.
No one outside Trumpworld can fail to understand the threat Trump presents each day to what we like to call the American experiment. He has taken a Bunsen burner to a couple hundred years’ worth of that experiment. And he was actually considering giving his acceptance speech at Gettysburg. Everyone would have more than little noted and remembered what he said there.
They, whoever they are, always tell you not to fight the last war, but that’s exactly what Trump is doing. And with every racist dog whistle, Trump unites Democrats. With every call out to “suburban housewives” — are there still any suburban housewives? — threatening that you-know-who might move next door, pushed there by Cory Booker, Trump unites Democrats. And with every “nasty” woman remark, he unites Democrats. And with every time he calls protesters thugs and mainstream Democrats radicals, he unites Democrats. The GOP base loves Trump. The polls say the base, at this point, is about 8 to 10 points short.
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So, let’s get to it. How disgusting is the Trump-embraced, racist birtherism 2.0 now targeting Kamala Harris, who just happens to be Black. Thanks to a Newsweek piece contending that Kamala Harris, born in Oakland, Calif., is not eligible to be on the ticket because her parents were visiting immigrants, or some such genuine frontier gibberish. There may be no there there in Oakland, but it’s still America last I checked. As for Trump, he said he heard something about it on social media, as if the president of the United States needs to rely on Twitter for his intelligence (a word I use advisedly).
As expected, as was all but certain, Trump jumped on the idea because, of course, he’d jump on it, just as he was a leading purveyor of the racist Obama-as-Kenyan birtherism phony theory. Just as he has now requested an absentee ballot for the November election, to be mailed presumably, after threatening to withhold money from the post office in order to make voting-by-mail impossible. Because, you know, otherwise the election will be rigged.
The other day, Trump said the quiet thing out loud, as he so often does, on Fox News, “Now they need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” he said. “But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”
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The voting-by-mail, as we know in Colorado, works. Trump is setting up the idea of rigged election as insurance against losing an election. It may be mocked, but it’s all there.
Meanwhile, the ineligibility assertion is not only widely mocked, at least outside the White House, but the concept comes courtesy (h/t Ernest Luning) of John C. Eastman, a law professor who also happens to be the University of Colorado’s “Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy.” If the concept behind that job is not a laughingstock, it should be. The article certainly is. So let’s all congratulate CU for the role it is playing in helping to usher in a new round of birtherism.
As the polls show, Trump has had a difficult time framing Biden in the way he did Clinton. And now Republicans are struggling to figure out how to attack Harris. (Hint: Birtherism isn’t going to work this time.) They can’t decide whether she was too tough on crime or too soft on crime when she was San Francisco DA or California attorney general. Trump is now calling her a “madwoman,” which he adds on to “angry” and “nasty.”
For those who saw her speak when Biden announced her candidacy, you can see the problem. She may have had trouble as a presidential candidate — she never figured out a place between the Bernie/Warren wing and the Biden wing and she never found an audience in the black community — but she has real charisma, real speaking talent, represents nearly every kind of diversity Democrats could hope for, and, for Biden, she couldn’t have been a better choice. She attacked Trump on COVID-19, on the economy, on his lack of leadership in school reopening, on the plight of small businesses. You heard her attack line on the economy — “And then, like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground” — and I’m guessing you’ll hear it again at the convention. It would get a standing ovation if anyone were there to stand.
So, now to the conventions. Republicans will call Democrats radicals and Biden an over-the-hill (they won’t put it quite so nicely) captive to the movement. And Democrats will delight in reminding us of the QAnon-friendly House candidates the Republican have nominated and the full-on believer Trump has embraced.
At the Democratic convention, both Obamas will get big speaking roles. They’re the home run hitters that Republicans lack and that Biden, who needed one, added in Harris. I don’t think George Bush, not exactly a power hitter anyway, will be speaking at the GOP convention. Neither will Mitt Romney.The Republican power hitter is Trump and Trump alone, along with maybe the Trump children. Maybe, though, they can get Kanye West to show up.
I’d expect the conventions to play out in the same way the election will almost certainly play out. Trump will dominate both conventions just as he’ll dominate the election up until Election Day. And I doubt, in either case, Democrats will mind at all.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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