18 April 2016

Notes from Norm: If a Convention Is Held and Nobody Watches

Unlike a number of Republican prognosticators, I am not fearful of a GOP Convention that does not have a foregone conclusion as to who the party’s nominee will be for the November General Election.

There are those in the media with short memories who suggest that not having a clear idea of who the party’s nominee will be in November means the end of the GOP.

Interestingly enough for those short memories they might want to get on the internet and do a search about the last time Republicans had a contested convention.

That would have been 1976 when Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford competed with one another to decide who would carry the mantel of the party for President that year.

Ultimately, Ford won that endorsement.

Ultimately, he lost to Jimmy Carter.

Yet, the Republican Party did not die as evidenced by the fact that Ronald Reagan won election, then re-election and was followed by George H.W. Bush who won an election on his own terms.

Since that time Republicans held the White House for an additional 8 years with the election and re-election of George W. Bush.

It's important to distinguish between a brokered convention and a contested convention.

The days of brokered conventions are long since gone and that is a good thing.

A brokered convention is one in which a handful of party officials manipulate the rules of the convention to achieve an outcome that suits their wants and desires.

Grassroots activists, which dominate the delegate pool, are tougher to control and herd than a roomful of cats.

And, a leader without followers is just a guy taking a walk. Twitter, Snapchat and social media generate new levels of transparency.

Back room deals, power brokers and “brokered conventions” have gone the way of the mimeograph machine.

A contested convention is one in which no candidate comes to the convention with the requisite number of delegates needed, under the rules of the convention, to secure an endorsement on the first ballot.

It may be that of the three remaining GOP candidates for President one of them will come to the convention with the number of delegates they need to win the endorsement outright.

It may also be that none of those three candidates will be able to win on the first ballot and therefore will need to find a way to secure the endorsement on each successive ballot.

That’s what took place in 1976 and the GOP did not fall apart.  It did not find itself doomed to the political wilderness.  

It did mean millions more Americans tuned into to watch the proceedings because they contained drama and suspense.

Yes, the GOP did lose to Jimmy Carter.

It was an election in which the American public was simply sick and tired of the corruption of the Nixon Administration.  They wanted someone who they believed would restore honor and dignity to the office of President.

While Ford had conducted himself with amazing dignity and truly did keep America from falling apart in this moment in our history, the American public was ready for a change.

And, when Jimmy Carter became President it was clear that his ascension had nothing to do with a contested GOP Convention but everything to do with the conduct of the party’s President while in Office.

Frankly, I think Republicans should embrace the opportunity that could be afforded to the party if a contested convention is in the offering.

To be candid Americans avoid watching political conventions like the plague.

Unless you tune in to watch the acceptance speech of the party’s nominee there’s not a lot of reason to give up a perfectly good evening with your family to watch a contest that has already been decided.

Furthermore, with the overabundance of talking heads telling us how we ought to react to a speech or remarks by candidates at political conventions there’s little intrigue or drama to entice Americans to tune in and watch a political convention.

Not only that, but the mainstream media has reduced its convention coverage more and more each year in large part, in their defense, to the fact that there is little intrigue or drama to entice Americans to tune in and watch a political convention.

So, with the potential of a contested convention for Republicans there should be less hand wringing and more consideration given to the benefit of such an event.

Imagine millions more Americans tuning in both on traditional media, and non-traditional media, to watch more gavel to gavel coverage of a political convention.  There could be a greater opportunity to share with the American people a GOP vision for the future of America that includes a stronger, more robust economy and a commitment to rein in the size and cost of government.

Think of the opportunity to share with the American people a vision of America that isn’t distilled into a sound bite or a single speech but throughout days of coverage of average Americans debating with one another the virtues of their candidate of choice – and why their vision for America is the one millions of Americans should embrace.

Regardless of whose candidate one may support in this year’s GOP contest for President it seems a strong argument can be made that having a contested convention creates a kind of political drama that will keep the American public coming back for more and looking to see what the final episode produces with respect to a nominee.

After all, if a political convention is held and nobody watches it, did it happen?