National conventions define party strategies ahead of November election

As the election creeps closer, candidates Vice President Joe Biden and incumbent Donald Trump hasten their campaigns and ramp up internal support and fundraising. Both candidates’ parties mounted large efforts to make their national conventions a campaign-cycle turning point. While different, each convention had clearly set goals, and both sides mobilized near everything they had to accomplish them.

     First was the Democratic National Convention (DNC). The convention’s speakers aimed to express that Joe Biden would restore a sense of normalcy that Donald Trump has taken from American politics. Several speeches from primary candidates, friends, and even former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter extolled Biden’s character and record, but the most effective and captivating moment came with President Barack Obama’s address from Old City’s Museum of the American Revolution, where he analyzed the state of American democracy under the Trump administration and how Biden could restore it to its height.

Vice President Joe Biden moments before his speech on the final night of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday August 20, 2020 via Wikimedia Commons

     The party also showed that it was the party of cooperation and progress rather than the one of division and regress that it says Donald Trump has formed. Featured Republican speakers included former Secretary of State under George W. Bush Colin Powell and former Republican Ohio governor, congressman, and presidential candidate John Kasich. “I’m a lifelong Republican,” Kasich said, “but that attachment holds second place to my responsibility to my country.”

     The convention finished on its fourth day with one of Vice President Biden’s most convincing speeches to date. He detailed not only the policy plans for his administration but also how they would directly affect Americans for the better. The speech presented a perfect end to the convention, as it addressed the issues Democrats are looking to prioritize and also demonstrated a strong and electable Biden.

     The DNC was widely considered a success, with perhaps its only low point coming with Vice Presidential nominee, Kamala Harris’s speech on the penultimate night of the convention. The speech was not widely regarded as successful. Nonetheless, the party was effective in capitalizing both on its platform as the party of compassion and humanity as well as its support from what historically has been the opposition.

     The Republican National Convention (RNC) took a completely different path in attempting to raise votes for the November election. As it was in 2016, the party’s strategy was to excite the base rather than to encourage bipartisan support for its candidate. In this aspect, it was generally effective. The party emphasized key issues for its voters such as protection of Second Amendment rights, abortion laws, and, most importantly, the preservation of conservative values.

Spectators await President Trump’s speech on the White House lawn on the final night of the convention on August 27, 2020 via Courtesy of Anygator.com

     Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell concentrated his speech on voting for Republicans up and down the ballot in order to preserve a majority in the Senate and regain control over the House of Representatives. It seemed that McConnell was chasing a “worst-case scenario,” where at least if there was a Biden presidency, a Republican Congress could halt its power to pass left-leaning legislation, much like the situation the Obama administration faced in its final years.

     Perhaps the only aspect of the convention that was not directly aimed to the right was the party’s attempt to empathize with minority constituencies. The party attempted to utilize stories of police officers who had been killed by protestors in order to differentiate between their stance on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and an unwillingness to work for minorities. These stories appeared in conjunction with black speakers such as former presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson and Senator Tim Scott, who defended the party’s commitment to equality.

     The attempt created an ideological clash within the convention, as the controversial couple who pointed guns at peaceful BLM protestors were given a chance to speak. These divisive speakers did not age well. Only days after the speech was delivered, seventeen-year old Kyle Rittenhouse did the same as the couple featured, but only this time shooting and killing two protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

     Additionally, the party attempted to convince the American public that the Republican Party was one with the middle class. They defended the president’s tax cuts in this light and preached that a potential Biden administration would roll back the cuts only to fund unnecessary government programs that would not help middle-class Americans. 

     The convention closed on its final night in an unprecedented way on the front lawn of the White House. The facade of the brightly lit White House was plastered with two enormous electronic boards that read “Trump Pence 2020.” The event, rather than being organized around the president’s speech, seemed to be a political statement more than anything. Many of the attendees were without masks despite the fact that none were tested prior to entry. The Republican convention was a likely success in securing returning right-wing voters. Still, it sparked numerous external controversies. On top of the many listed above, a large number of its speakers had the last name Trump, indicators of an abandonment of moderate Republican voters by the party, perhaps even more so than in 2016.

     The conventions took two very different approaches to raising votes. The DNC was widely regarded as a success and a civil attempt at politics. Meanwhile, the RNC only sparked more controversy, yet may have been just as successful, if not more so, in retaining the voters it targeted than the DNC was.

     The only question that remains is whether or not the Republican party made the right decision in doubling down on its strategy from 2016. Trump and the party, by continuing to distance itself from the middle and by appealing to its conservative base, may be taking its political strategy too far, especially when a moderate, non-divisive candidate like Joe Biden can easily collect center-leaning Republican votes. Only time will tell if the Republican party has strayed too far from the center.