After eight convention nights, a few lessons

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A few leftovers from the conventions:

  • Just to be clear: The Hatch Act is a law. The law also prohibits public funds — taxpayer money, as the politicians say —  from being used for campaigning. This is a generally lawless presidency, but we shouldn't let that blind us to new examples.
     
  • It was clear from the outset that Republicans were going to be far less ambitious in converting this year's convention into something new, but wow was the staging dull. Day four at least had some gripping "real people" telling their stories, which helped. But the format just killed off everything else. Lots and lots of speeches from a podium in an empty room (and apparently taped speeches at that), with every fourth one or so a recorded address from a remote location or a standard-issue filmed segment. I wasn't a huge fan of the Democrats' celebrity hosts, but at least they were attempting to hold people's attention. Fewer formal speeches, more varied locations and styles. To be clear, this isn't a substantive complaint. But after eight nights of watching the two events gavel-to-gavel, I'm going to do a bit of theater criticism. (Note: The Republicans had a somewhat better gavel, but they only used it for the Monday afternoon session; the Democrats used their slightly inferior gavel at the beginning and end of each night. Call it a draw.)
     
  • To be fair, normal conventions aren't really designed to be watched the way I watched them. A fair amount of what's on the podium is coalition management as opposed to outreach — that is, Republicans need to have abortion opponents speak (as one did Wednesday) because otherwise that group would be upset, not because there are a whole lot of people who care passionately about abortion but haven't decided which party to support. Every once in a while those speeches are outstanding anyway, and those who believe in whichever cause it is may have a low bar for what they find moving (I know I do when it's something I care about!). But usually not. Similarly, one purpose of a convention is to give publicity to candidates who need it. Neither party did a lot of that this year, but endangered Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa got a speech on Wednesday, and while it was fine and surely will help her raise some money, it wasn't exactly an attention-grabber.
     
  • Back to the theater criticism: The Republicans botched the balloon drop. Okay, it was fireworks this year, not balloons, and as far as I could tell they were terrific. The problem? The nominee and his family were at the White House looking toward the Washington Monument, which meant that the cameras couldn't capture both their reactions and the fireworks at the same time. The convention feed mostly stayed with the fireworks, which meant that we didn't get to see the first family gathered on stage, or the full ticket triumphant together. When the cameras finally switched back to the Trumps, just as a singer began to perform, we saw the entire family turn away from the cameras and show us their backs. For the rest of the program, the feed switched from shots of the singer, the family listening attentively and the family's backs.
     
  • Usually, as soon as the nominee's acceptance speech ends, the network talking heads start analyzing it while leaving the convention platform on the visual feed. That's great television! This was just a visual mess. No, of course it doesn't matter much. But as with the speechwriting, it was pretty clearly sub-professional to me, even granting that having to come up with something new isn't always easy.

1. Dave Hopkins on the convention.

2. Dan Hopkins on running on bigotry the second time around.

3. Molly Reynolds at the Monkey Cage on how Congress could reassert its powers.

4. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Ramesh Ponnuru on Trump's speech.

5. Amy Walter on where Trump has gone wrong

6. And Aaron Blake on Republicans in need of some history lessons.

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