Politics & Policy

Assessing the Conventions

Two weeks. Who won? Who lost?

The speeches have been delivered and the nominees officially selected. Which party came out on top? Our experts weigh in on what the conventions mean for the election.

David French

Here’s the Democratic National Convention in one sentence: “Our base is bigger than your base.”

In the midst of a miserable recovery, the Obama campaign is betting that its electoral base is big enough to swamp conservatives, conservative-leaning independents, and true moderates. And it just might work. The Republican popular-vote percentage in four of the last five elections trailed that of the Democrats, and the Democrats’ targeted identity politics is driving an ever-higher percentage of minority voters — even minorities who would otherwise be sympathetic to conservative cultural values — ever deeper into the Democratic fold.

After celebrating abortion so brazenly, after booing God and Jerusalem so loudly, and after embracing government so openly, the Democrats have left no doubt about where they stand. They are betting the election on the idea that America has changed, that it’s no longer center-right in any meaningful sense, and that it will act much like California — by doubling down to the left in the face of economic uncertainty and fiscal failure.

Every election cycle we hear the claim that this election is the “most important of our lifetime.” I don’t know if this election is the most important, but it may be the most defining. Are we still a center-right country? Are we still a people that celebrates success and rugged self-reliance? We’ll find out soon enough.

David French is senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice and co-founder of Evangelicals for Mitt.

Jim Geraghty

The conventions of 2016 are likely to look quite different from the ones of recent cycles. For starters, future conventions will probably be officially scheduled for three days, not four. There will be a lot of pressure to schedule them outside hurricane season, but the parties want the conventions as late as possible in order to generate momentum for the fall, and they fear voters won’t pay attention in midsummer, with vacations, the Olympics, and so on.

With the parties’ nominees selected through the primaries months ago, the original purpose of the convention — the official nomination process — is gone. For the past several decades, the conventions served as week-long commercials for each party. But now there’s a serious question about whether these events serve that goal well anymore.

The Romney “bump” from the convention was pretty minimal, and Obama’s bump probably will be as well. This has less to do with the quality of the conventions or their messaging than with the fact that a) America is highly polarized, so there are fewer voters remaining to be swayed by conventions, and b) very few undecided voters are watching.

Some of this can be blamed on the public’s increasingly adamant refusal to consume news programming in the absence of a crisis, but some of the blame also falls on the networks. The non-cable networks are down to an hour of scheduled coverage on only two successive nights. When a speaker runs past 11 p.m., some affiliates carry the speaker’s conclusion and some cut to their local news. Unlike C-SPAN, the cable networks have their pundits talk over a significant chunk of each night’s speakers. Why should the parties raise millions of dollars and expend the enormous effort of staging the convention when the coverage on Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN largely amounts to their regular programming of interviews and analysis — except from a different location, with the speakers and delegates utilized to furnish a dramatic backdrop?

For journalists, there’s great value in having everyone in each party, past and present, in one place for one week, and the parties are a lot of fun. But the conventions need a new purpose; they have been running on nostalgia since the 1980s. Perhaps they would make more sense if they were held almost immediately after the final presidential primary, a formal “coronation” that would require the nominee to make his running-mate selection earlier in the process.

Or they could just invite Clint Eastwood every year.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.


Victor Davis Hanson

Over the last two weeks of campaigning and conventioning, the fault line that has emerged is that the Republicans are comfortable in their calls of reform and tough discipline to avoid insolvency, and are mostly on the same page. In contrast, the Democrats are not consistent or confident in their rhetoric, and are unwilling to explain how to pay for ever-expanding collective government (other than with calls to “tax the rich”) or how to reconcile a growing list of extremist positions. The price of gas, the deficit, the national debt, the unemployment rate, and falling family income are all unmentioned, but it is implied that all would be worse under Romney.

The results of being disingenuous are ubiquitous: Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz are caught in embarrassing lies; Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa must pretend that a clear 50–50 voice vote on restoring references to God and Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to the platform was really a 67–33 passing hyper-majority; no one in charge can quite explain how we are better off than we were four years ago; “rain” supposedly deprived thousands of hearing the presidential convention wrap-up; the president, who blocked new leasing on federal lands and canceled the Keystone pipeline, brags about increased oil and gas production that came despite rather than because of his efforts. The only unity and candor come in repugnant charges — the rich and selfish want to bring back Jim Crow, deport our future brain surgeons and Nobel-laureate DREAMers, and deprive brave young women of the means to buy rare and exorbitantly priced condoms.

So the American voter at least has a choice: vote in a new president to open up and grow the economy while cutting back the unsustainable rate of government growth, or assume that “they” have done horrible things to the Obama team and thus prevented the president from succeeding — and that Romney in charge would be even worse than the last bad four years.

 Victor Davis Hanson is author of The End of Spartaa novel about freedom.


Quin Hillyer

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have done a fairly good job presenting themselves as serious Mr. Fixit types who have the right experience and abilities to pursue a stronger overall economy. In terms of trustworthiness and likeability, both have improved their image. I think they need some work, though, in two areas. First, they still sound a little too much like specialists in what Jack Kemp called “root-canal economics” — too much about austerity, not enough about growth, opportunity, compassion, and hope. Second, I sense that many persuadable voters are approaching their decision almost as if they were a jury deciding a case: They want details they can understand, presented in a way that convinces them that the candidate’s approach will work. Without being too wonkish, the Romney-Ryan team can and should explain more effectively the “how” of economic recovery. Compared, for instance, with Bill Clinton, who did a great job Wednesday night of basically litigating the Democrats’ case, the Republican team has not yet convinced the juror-voters who will determine the election result.

As for the Democrats, they are doing a great job following the only path open to them: They distract attention from Obama’s record, attack the Republicans relentlessly, and distort the truth whenever necessary. So far, the approach has worked to keep Obama competitive. It is the only hope Democrats have — and it’s a hope that voters may well reward, as long as Team Obama stays within striking range.

— Quin Hillyer is a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom and a senior editor of The American Spectator.

Roger Kimball

The big winners of the two presidential conventions these past two weeks are . . . the American people. You may not see it yet (in truth, it’s not clearly visible yet), but the starkest ideological choice of my lifetime in American politics was consummately limned by both parties. One the one hand, you had the party representing the Founders’ vision of America: a country built on limited government and individual liberty. On the other, you had a vision of America built on unlimited government, where the egalitarian imperative everywhere trumped the agonistic spirit of free enterprise. Supporting props: on one side, “You did build that,” God-fearing decency, and a reverence for life, even the most helpless. On the other side, talk of “shared prosperity” — code for shared immiseration — and the spectacle of the rank-and-file booing the name of God.

Then there were the constantly iterated facts: the $16 trillion national debt, the 8.3 percent unemployment, the nearly 5 percent drop in median household income over the past three and a half years. The American people are the big winners because the choice before them could not be more dramatic and they will act in their own self-interest. Once the ensorcelling echoes from Charlotte die away, we will be left with a sobered electorate not a little chastened and more than a little frightened by those demagogic leaders who are more interested in creating green jobs than real jobs. Forget the polls: Romney-Ryan will win by a historic landslide, and the nightmare of the last four years, and the much greater nightmare looming in front of us, will melt away like a bad dream.

— Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and president and publisher of Encounter Books.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

The convention winner is yet to be determined. The Democratic convention wins some marks for honesty. The priorities of its leadership and the most enthusiastic part of its base were on full display. Their clients took the stage: NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood. They even put Sandra Fluke in prime time. That’s a political gamble. Many Americans do not believe that women are free only when not just contraception but also abortion are ubiquitous, and when anyone with conscientious objections to paying for these “services” has been forced to submit, under penalty of debilitating fines.

The advantage Democrats have right now is their obfuscation: They have cynically granted some faith-based institutions some time to get with the program — putting off full implementation of the HHS mandate until after the election. But make no mistake — it’s a radical ticket, with radical policy, driving a radically new definition of religious liberty in America. Romney and Ryan win if this story is better told. Kelly Ayotte helped with counter-programming this week in an informative web video about religious liberty. We need more Kelly Ayottes in the Senate and we won’t get them there — we won’t counter this worldview that’s currently got the majority of votes in Washington — D.C., if Americans aren’t relentlessly clear in the coming weeks about what just happened in Charlotte. Americans need to know how fundamentally hostile this administration has been to conscience rights, and that there is an alternative in the Romney-Ryan ticket and in sending their allies to both houses of Congress.

 Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.



Nick Schulz

The GOP has allowed its critique of government to become too narrow.

By focusing almost exclusively on debt and deficits, the GOP missed an opportunity to explain to Americans how government policy — specifically housing policy and the “bailout doctrine” — created the crisis that still haunts the American economy.

The American project is threatened by more-than-excessive federal spending. As Jim DeLong points out, it is jeopardized by a special-interest state whose scope is so boundless that it creates systemic problems for almost everything it touches.

Consider higher education. Democrats love to talk about the G.I. Bill. But there’s much more to say about government and higher education. Over the years, as it has tried to “fix” the problem of access to higher ed, government has been the catalyst of obscene tuition inflation; this is, of course, the new problem that supposedly needs “fixing” by government. Or consider health care. In “fixing” the problem of access to health care, government has been the driver of the health-care inflation that everyone now laments. The list goes on.

The wreckage of government policy is all around us. If the party of limited government won’t remind the American people, who will?

— Nick Schulzis the DeWitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor-in-chief of American.com.

Charmaine Yoest

This was the year the Democrats decided to host the abortion-palooza. Cecile Richards, the president of the world’s largest abortion chain, Planned Parenthood, received a prime-time slot to speak. So did Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL, the group formerly known as the National Abortion Rights Action League. They were joined by a chorus composed of Caroline Kennedy and Eva Longoria and Scarlett Johansson, to name a few. It was fascinating to watch the spectacle. They are all so glossy. And so aggrieved. To hear them tell it, the Huns are at the doorstep. And yet Cecile Richards presides over a billion-dollar business that receives public tax monies that amount to over $1 million a day.

But the sense of siege goes even higher: Both Michelle and Barack Obama mentioned abortion rights with defiance and jutting jaws, as if this president’s term had not ushered in the passage of Obamacare, the greatest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum: The target market, American women, are actually more pro-life than pro-choice. As Ramesh Ponnuru reminds us, 46 percent of women told the Gallup organization that they are pro-life, while 44 percent describe themselves as “pro-choice.” Hardly a slam-dunk case for making abortion the organizing theme for a political convention and a reelection campaign. And then in the gauzy moment of swirling confetti — in the final last gasping breath of two weeks of speeches — history happened. Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan stepped to the microphone to provide closure. “We ask your benediction,” he prayed, “on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected.” Calmly and simply, with utmost integrity, he demonstrated for a new generation what speaking truth to power actually looks like.

 Charmaine Yoest is president of Americans United for Life.

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