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Democratic National Convention 2020: ‘Unwatchable,’ or a model for the future?

Media pundits and editorial boards across the country weigh in on the DNC’s biggest successes or blatant failures.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden stands on stage after Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., spoke during the third day of the Democratic National Convention, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del.
Associated Press

The Democratic National Convention concluded its final session on Thursday. The four-day event — which was held virtually — was highlighted by appearances by presidential and vice presidential nominees Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, as well as speeches from Michelle and Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and others.

Media pundits and editorial boards across the country were quick to comment on the convention’s biggest successes and most blatant failures. Here are some of the highlights:

Washington Post contributing columnist Hugh Hewitt claimed Democrats “jumped off a ratings cliff,” calling for fewer speeches and more interviews.

“(The DNC) was, in a word, unwatchable,” he wrote. “(I)n general, television audiences don’t watch speeches. So Republicans should learn from the Democrats’ fiasco and switch it up quickly for their convention next week.”

On the other hand, David Frum of The Atlantic praised the convention’s digital format — so much so, Frum wrote, that it could be a model for future conventions.

“The 2020 Democratic convention is not an event at all. It is not happening anywhere except on your screen,” he wrote. “... The Democratic virtual convention was the first of the Facebook era. It will not be the last.”

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, accused the DNC of being a “massive evasion” — spending too much time on “Never Trumpers” and not enough on concrete policy platforms.

“So far, the Democratic convention has been notably bereft of policy, focusing instead on President Donald Trump’s character failings — rehearsed at length — and Joe Biden’s empathy and decency,” he wrote in a Politico Magazine article on Wednesday. “Together with all the speakers with a Republican pedigree, this has reinforced Biden’s image of being more moderate than he is, which is perhaps his greatest political strength.

“There is obviously no percentage in him running as the most progressive presidential nominee in a couple of generations. It’s much better to portray himself simply as a good guy whose tent is so broad it stretches from AOC to the former secretary of state for a Republican president many progressives think was guilty of war crimes.”

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni credited Michelle Obama’s speech as a reminder of the “immeasurable” stakes in this year’s election.

“This convention isn’t without its ideological tussles, bruised egos and other offscreen drama,” he said. “But anyone who’s focused on that has lost the big picture. Anyone who’s focused on that can’t recognize how many of the compliments bestowed on Biden on Monday night could never be given to Trump.”

Fox News pundit Sean Hannity didn’t mince words in his criticism, saying “the DNC may very well be the worst show ever on Earth.”

“Thus far, the theme of the DNC has been all about hating Donald Trump, the cult of hatred, psychosis and madness on some levels, with of course, the vague, typical platitudes, bumper stickers and slogans,” he said after the Wednesday night session.

CNN political commentator Keith Boykin viewed the convention — and especially Biden’s Thursday speech — as a roaring success.

“Thursday night’s Democratic National Convention accomplished two critically important goals,” he wrote. “First, it finally gave voters a reason to vote for Joe Biden and not just against President Donald Trump. And, second, it vaccinated Biden against the ugly virus of Trumpism that will surely infect America in the coming days and weeks.

“... What the Democrats did this week, and especially on Thursday, was to counter the Trump caricature of Biden with the reality of the man. It was an effective rebuttal to the inevitable GOP attacks to come at next week’s convention.”

Kyle Peterson of the Wall Street Journal viewed the convention as hyperfocused on Biden as a person and hazy on Biden as a candidate — perhaps strategically.

“Presidents campaign in poetry, as they say, while saving the prose about tax credits for that first legislative address to Congress. Fair enough,” he wrote. “Still, most candidates tack toward the center after locking down their party’s nomination. Mr. Biden, remarkably, has done the opposite in the past few months, putting progressive icing on a progressive cake.

“Mr. Biden apparently thinks that it hardly matters this year, that even Americans who don’t share his new politics are eager to give President Trump the heave-ho. Maybe he’s right. ‘I’m going to be so presidential,’ Mr. Trump once said, ’that you people will be so bored.’ Who’s bored now?”