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Analysis: Democratic National Convention

20 August 2020

By Phil Elwood, Managing Director, SEC Newgate, Washington, DC

This week the Democrats are hosting their virtual convention to nominate former Vice President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris to be the Democratic Party’s ticket in this November’s election. With all of the grandeur and aesthetics of yet another Zoom meeting, the Democrats are adapting to campaigning in the COVID-19 era. 

Former First Lady Michelle Obama owned the show on the first night by using Donald Trump’s own words about pandemic deaths in her tradition-breaking critique of the US president. She said he could not meet this moment and added “it is what it is.” 

On night two, former President Bill Clinton gave an scathing criticism of Trump in his remarks, while some questioned whether, in the #MeToo era, it was a good idea to have him speak. Controversy aside, his speech did upstage other senior statesmen like former Secretary of State John Kerry and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

Surprisingly, there was only one hot mic profanity incident (so far), brought to us by Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.

Night three has been referred to as the “Convention of the Woman” by the Associated Press. We saw speeches from the first female Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats first woman nominee for president, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Party’s nominee for Vice President, Kamala Harris. In addition, former President Barack Obama accused President Trump of threatening democracy and said that he hasn’t “grown into the job because he can’t.” 

The format of the convention has communications advantages and disadvantages. Journalists and pundits are limited in their ability to participate in real-time as the convention runs straight through without breaks, giving networks little chance to jump into the programming for analysis. This has provided the Democrats with an opportunity to promote their message without interruption for hours each evening this week. Pre-taped speeches have proven to cut both ways, allowing for speakers to give a more polished presentation – in the location of their choosing, but also removing some of the excitement that comes from watching a live event. Michelle Obama drew criticism from Trump in what pundits are calling a Trump “self-own” for not getting an accurate count of the dead as fatalities are rising in the US, as her speech was pre-taped. 

One theme of the convention thus far, has been an appeal to Republicans, and specifically on the second night to “McCain Republicans,” to vote for an alternative to Trump. Another tactic being used by Biden’s team is highlighting the appeal that the candidate has with “everyday Americans,” like a security guard he met in an elevator once and Amtrak workers

Tonight, the convention will wrap up with the acceptance speech from Biden himself.