The Morning Jolt

Elections

How Important Are Political Conventions?

Election volunteer Nancy Gavney verifies voter and witness signatures on absentee ballots at City Hall during the presidential primary election in Beloit, Wisc., April 7, 2020. (Daniel Acker/Reuters)

Welcome to week eleven of life with the coronavirus pandemic. If someone is asking “Why aren’t people staying inside like they did before?” it means they are in denial of the fact that this is week eleven of life with the coronavirus pandemic.

On the menu today: wondering just how either party can safely hold a convention under these circumstances; former senator and ambassador Max Baucus trashes the administration for Chinese state television; and Gretchen Whitmer’s husband appears to tank her chances of being Joe Biden’s running mate.

What Is the Purpose of a Political Convention during a Pandemic?

How soon do you envision yourself indoors in a crowd of people, standing or sitting less than six feet apart?

The president wants the 2020 Republican National Convention, scheduled for August 24 through 27 in Charlotte, to look like a traditional one. In a series of tweets Monday, the president fumed that Democratic governor Roy Cooper “is still in shutdown mood” and “unable to guarantee that by August we will still be allowed full attendance in the arena . . . Plans are being made by many thousands of enthusiastic Republicans, and others, to head to beautiful North Carolina in August. They must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site.” Yesterday, Trump added in another tweet that he has no interest in bringing the convention to his Doral property near Miami, Fla.

The lone response from the North Carolina governor’s office so far is a brief statement from Cooper’s press secretary, Dory MacMillan: “State health officials are working with the RNC and will review its plans as they make decisions about how to hold the convention in Charlotte. North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state’s public health and safety.”

Saturday evening, Jonathan Swan of Axios reported, “watch for a visual contrast between the two party conventions in August. Two sources close to the president said they hope to have a boisterous, live crowd. They want to have more people there physically than at the Democratic convention the week earlier, which will likely involve significant virtual elements.”

The Democratic convention in Milwaukee is going to be on such a smaller scale: The city is hoping it wins the opportunity to host the 2024 Democratic convention.

Without the ability to bring lots of people together in the same place, it’s fair to wonder what the point of a party’s national convention is. Otherwise, it’s just a series of speeches.

Since at least the 1990s, news institutions wondered how much actual news there was in conventions where the nominee is already known, the nominating process was a formality, and the prime-time speeches turned into a four-night informercial for the party. For local businesses, conventions are a bonanza, from the huge influx of delegates, alternate delegates, just about every major elected official in the party (in normal cycles; 2016 was a little different for the GOP), and tens of thousands of members of the media.

Increasingly, host cities welcome a lot of out-of-town cops, helping the locals keep everything secure. For donors and party officials, it’s four days of networking and four nights of partying. For political junkies, it’s Disneyland with every local university, think tank, activist group, and faction hosting open events. For protesters, it’s a moment to rally, beat their drums, and march around with their giant paper-mache heads.

But few of those activities can be easily done while social distancing. (I suppose many of the protesters are used to wearing masks.)

Would Barack Obama’s address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 have been as well received if there was no crowd in front of him? Would Ted Cruz’s “vote your conscience” closing line at the 2016 GOP convention in Cleveland have mattered without the booing from the delegates and the scowling reaction from the Trump family? Is there a point to dropping lots of red, white, and blue balloons and confetti if there’s no one beneath them?

The good news is that late August should be one of the lowest-risk times of year. Research indicates summer heat will mitigate the spread of the virus, although it will be a secondary factor compared to people’s behaviors. Because being outdoors is considered safer than indoors, if there must be a gathering of lots of people, would it make more sense to hold events in an open-air football or baseball stadium? Maybe Obama was ahead of the curve with his columns in Denver in 2008.

Charlotte’s basketball arena, the Spectrum Center — formerly known as Time Warner Cable Arena — has a seating capacity of roughly 20,000. Most football stadiums have capacity of at least 50,000; Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., has more than 100,000. You could have a large crowd and spread everyone out several feet.

You could envision more creative ways of taking the event out of one location and making supporters across the country feel like they have a role, no matter where they live. What if you asked every party supporter in America to go out onto their front porch or apartment balcony, put out their yard signs or homemade signs or paraphernalia, and listen or stream the speeches, so that the audience is coast-to-coast? And what if the conclusion of the nominee’s speech, instead of the balloon drop, people set off small fireworks or some other celebratory noise?

If the GOP does go ahead with holding the convention in the Spectrum Center, many health experts will argue that large a gathering under one roof with ventilated air — with a decent number of senior citizens in attendance! — is unsafe. But to raise the question I’m asking more frequently lately . . . how much less safe is gathering in an arena than taking the New York City subway system right now? Or New York City Transit Port Authority buses? People are still getting on airplanes and standing on long lines in airports.

One last thought: How many Americans will have had the coronavirus and have recovered by late August? Not every state is collecting data on those who beat the virus, but as of this writing, the count is 464,727.

Corrupt to the Max

Our Zach Evans notes that the former senator and former U.S. ambassador to China Max Baucus is regularly denouncing President Trump on Chinese state television. Evans observes, “the former senator sits on the Board of Advisers to Alibaba Group. He also runs a consulting firm, Baucus Group LLC, which connects American and Chinese businesses.”

Every now and then I marvel that former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is now pretty much a lobbyist for the Russian oil industry, and everyone in the West has more or less accepted it. Our media — and the U.K. media, and other western countries — is justifiably anti-Putin . . . but when a former head of state of a NATO country signs on to become a Putin stooge, they generate a mild “tsk-tsk” and move on. Considering all the ire at Trump for his swooning for Putin, you would think we could spare some more anger for a former head of state who’s signed an actual contract with Putin allies.

Amazon is allegedly the bad guys in the eyes of many on the Left, but former Obama press secretary Jay Carney is making a good living as one of their senior vice presidents. David Plouffe went to Uber and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, EPA head Lisa Jackson went to Apple, and Eric Holder went to Airbnb. Corporate America is evil and greedy and the driving force behind worsening inequality . . . but if some former Democratic official wants to cash in, it’s all cool.

Governors in Michigan, Illinois, and Virginia Prefer to Ignore the Inconvenient Rules

I didn’t think Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer was a likely or good choice to be Joe Biden’s running mate. She appears even less likely to be the choice this morning:

The owner of a Northern Michigan dock company says Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s husband wanted his boat placed in the water before the Memorial Day weekend as Whitmer urged residents not to rush to the region.

“This morning, I was out working when the office called me, there was a gentleman on hold who wanted his boat in the water before the weekend,” Dowker posted. “Being Memorial weekend and the fact that we started working three weeks late means there is no chance this is going to happen.”

“Well our office personnel had explained this to the man and he replied, ‘I am the husband to the governor, will this make a difference?'”…

In a statement, Whitmer spokeswoman Brown didn’t specifically confirm or deny the company’s assertion.

“Our practice is not to discuss the governor’s or her family’s personal calendar/schedules. And we’re not going to make it a practice of addressing every rumor that is spread online,” Brown said.

When a governor’s office doesn’t deny a story like this, that’s pretty much a confirmation.

This goes well with Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker’s family going to Wisconsin and Florida during lockdown and Virginia governor Ralph Northam out taking selfies without social distancing or wearing a mask. Apparently, very few governors think the restrictions they announced apply to themselves or their own families. Or maybe Governor Whitmer’s husband just ranks among the many, many spouses who choose to tune out their partner’s requests and recommendations.

ADDENDUM: Our Robert VerBruggen offers readers all the studies they could ever want, whether they want to argue that lockdowns work to stop the spread of the coronavirus or they don’t.

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