You have to grade the 2020 Democratic National Convention — partially live, mostly pre-taped, from all over the country — on a curve. Because of the pandemic, the event features little of the usual pageantry and hoopla, Joe Biden won’t even be in the city for his acceptance speech, and probably no confetti or balloon drop. This year, we will all be like that disappointed, frustrated, off-color CNN producer in Boston in 2004.
Perhaps there was no way to put together two hours of programming under pandemic restrictions that wouldn’t feel like a telethon or a series of Zoom calls.
In the first hour, Americans tuning in got to watch Eva Longoria in a surprisingly large role as host, opening with some anodyne interviews with average Americans who just happened to represent key demographics and mostly lived in swing states.
We moved on to pre-taped segments of Biden having stilted remote conversations with voters and Democratic officeholders, offering gems like, “Most cops are good! But the fact is, the bad ones have to be identified and prosecuted and out. Period.”
In between, those watching sat through a couple of montage videos set to music that were indistinguishable from all of the “in these uncertain times, we at Weyland-Yutani are committed to getting through this together” commercials that appeared at every break as the pandemic took hold.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo appeared to take one more undeserved victory lap about his state’s management of the coronavirus and to let us know, “In many ways, COVID is just a metaphor.” Er, no, governor, it really isn’t, not in the ways that count the most. The speechwriter who let that line get through ought to be canned.
On paper, with Joe Biden enjoying a big lead both nationally in the swing states, the Democrats might think they have an easy assignment with this year’s limited convention: Just don’t blow it.
Then again, things looked good for Hillary Clinton after the Democratic convention in Philadelphia four years ago: “Five new public surveys, each conducted over the weekend following Democrats’ national party convention, give Clinton a lead ranging from 3 to 9 points. Four of the five pollsters point to a clear Clinton bump, having found Trump ahead or down by only a single point the week before.”
Based upon what we saw Monday night, Democrats may play it safe and point to the country’s current problems, blame Trump, offer a safe, generic message of “change,” and paint Biden as Obama’s third term. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer insisted that the Obama-Biden GM bailout “saved the auto industry.” (GM then used the money to make cars that could kill you if your key chain was too heavy.)
Ripping Trump and playing up Obama nostalgia might be enough. But Democrats who remember last cycle might wonder if that’s really enough.
Democrats may think Donald Trump is the devil, but there’s the nagging fact that he convinced quite a few Obama voters in the upper Midwest that late-second-term Obama’s America was a place where they were being left behind. If Obama’s presidency was such a rousing success, it should have helped Hillary Clinton reach 270 electoral votes, even if she was a flawed candidate.