TWO years ago, Republicans decided to hold their 2020 (RNC) convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. That made sense: In recent cycles, parties have tended to hold conventions in swing states they would like to keep. For example, in 2016, Republicans held their Congress in Ohio, which Barack Obama and George W. Bush both won twice, while Democrats held in Pennsylvania. The North Carolina electorate over the past three cycles has gone to Mr. Obama, Mitt Romney (both in squatters) and Donald Trump, but the influx of voters to the major cities of the state and the growing Latino population is making Republicans nervous.
On June 2, Roy Cooper, the state’s democratic governor, told Republican grandees that he wanted “a safe RNC convention in Charlotte” that follows CDC health guidelines. That proved unacceptable to Mr Trump, who always loves a busy, cheering house. So he decided to move the big speeches to Jacksonville, in the Trump-friendly northern part of Florida. However, on July 23, when Covid-19 ravaged the state, Trump abruptly canceled his coronation in Jacksonville, explaining, “We won’t be having a big, busy convention … it’s just not the right time for that.” From a public health point of view, he is clearly right. But his point is also politically true: conventions are occasionally entertaining spectacles that have evolved beyond their original purpose and may have survived their usefulness.
For most of American history, the purpose of a party convention was to choose the nominee and use the platform. Conventions replaced clubby, insular caucuses of congressmen who would decide among themselves who should nominate their party for president and vice president. So they were a step towards greater participatory democracy. Andrew Jackson said in 1835 that he considered “the true policy of friends of Republican principles to send delegates, fresh from the people, to a general convention to select candidates.” Conventions required delegates to publicly declare their choice.
The first was held in 1831 by the Anti-Masonic Party – formed, as the name suggests, in late 1820 to fight Freemasonry. It managed to pick a candidate, William Wirt, who had long been an American Attorney General and, strangely, a former Freemason who had deep sympathy for Freemasonry. In the 1832 election, he carried a single state (Vermont), while Andrew Jackson, the Democrat, took 16 and Republican, Henry Clay, six. Traditionally, nominees skipped congresses for fear of appearing indecent; the first to show up was Franklin Roosevelt, in 1932.
It can be raw, hard-fought affairs. In 1924, for example, the Democratic convention was stuck for 16 days and 103 votes between New York’s governor Al Smith, who would become the first Catholic candidate for a major party four years later, and Woodrow Wilson’s son William McAdoo- in-law and treasury secretary, who received support from the keen anti-Catholic (among others antis) Ku Klux Klan. Because there was little room for a compromise between the two, delegates eventually chose a compromise candidate, John W. Davis, a diplomat, lawyer, and former West Virginia congressman who met Calvin Coolidge in the general election.
Conventions became less intense as television became more important. In 1964, Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination despite fierce opposition from moderates, who detested Goldwater supporters. Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play Major League Baseball, supported the more moderate Nelson Rockefeller. After the Congress, he said he understood “what it felt like to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.” Four years later, the police outside the protesters fought the Vietnam War outside the Congress of Democrats in Chicago. The images helped Richard Nixon enhance his appeal as a public policy candidate.
From 1912, the parties moved towards even greater citizen participation through the introduction of primaries. They weren’t binding at first – essentially a measure of public opinion that party insiders should consider when choosing a candidate at the convention. But by the early 1970s, they had become decisive. In hard-fought primary games, political journalists work in a frenzy hoping for a disputed convention, and the occasional challenger hopes for a black swan – Teddy Kennedy fights Jimmy Carter in 1980 or Ronald Reagan challenges Gerald Ford in 1976 – but there have been conventions. fundamentally drama-free boondoggles for more than half a century.
That’s not to say they were pointless. Political junkies and journalists can slog through mile 23 of a marathon tired by the time of the convention, but the general public is not: conventions form a national stage to introduce the candidate. They had the party tell the candidate’s story and shape the elections. In other words, they are more than decision-making forums.
This year, however, the general public knows both candidates well: Joe Biden because he has been in national politics since 1972, and Mr. Trump because he has been ardently seeking public attention in any form for nearly as long. They don’t need an introduction. Fighting across the party platform makes for the only microdot of drama, but even that has gone out of the way this year. Republicans simply voted to keep the platform from 2016, and Mr Biden’s campaign, which is aware of the fights between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters four years ago, has been policy-making for months with Mr Sanders’ supporters .
The parties still have to nominate their candidates formally, but that is easy to do and will be drama-free for both parties – Republicans because the party is now determined by personal allegiance to Mr. Trump and his family, and Democrats for wanting to impeach Trump outweighs any other consideration. Mass gatherings during a pandemic simply cannot be justified.
The more interesting question is whether the parties will return to the full four-day cocktail party and networking convention in 2024. Like Cadillac Escalades, the party conferences are large, cumbersome, wasteful, and fundamentally meaningless. The balance of power in both parties lies with the voters, not with the elites; and social media have made the standard prime-time speeches rudimentary and archaic. But people still buy Escalades. And in four years’ time, politicians are unlikely to resist the opportunity to gather thousands, exchange war stories about hotel barbers, and feel as inaccurate that they are at least near the center of political life. universe.
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