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Did first-ever virtual conventions change any minds?

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A screen displays President Donald Trump as he speaks on stage during the first day of the Republican National Committee convention, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Charlotte.

Associated Press

The 2020 national political conventions are over, both of them historic and unprecedented thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. We examine the impact of the Republican extravaganza last week on Utah and national politics.

Did the GOP convention give President Donald Trump a boost in the base and among the undecided in Utah? What were convention themes that will impact Utah political races this November?

Pignanelli: “To best describe the Republican convention, I quote the great earthy Hollywood star Mae West, who said “too much of a good thing … is wonderful.” You can’t watch for an hour without Donald Trump being on.” — Mark Shields, PBS 

Both conventions prove that politics follow the laws of physics.

For example, an object will remain at rest unless changed by an external force. President Trump broke tradition by appearing all four days during the convention, serving notice he will be an aggressive force in campaigning. Democrat nominee Joseph Biden has no choice but to respond appropriately through more personal, less structured, interactions.

Second, force is equal to a change in momentum. Trump is attempting to alter Biden’s lead in the polls with unprecedented use of incumbent powers in a convention setting. In an amazing display, he pardoned the reformed convict, welcomed Americans held prisoner, congratulated new citizens, thanked first responders and received praise from beneficiaries of programs. These activities were counter propellants while energizing the base.

For every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Democrats produced a well-crafted convention promising a dystopian future if Trump is reelected. The GOP painted an equally disturbing nightmare if Biden succeeds. Democrats promoted diversity and Republicans responded. Indeed, the best speakers last week were people of color: Sen. Tim Scott, Ambassador Nikki Haley, Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron, etc.

Energy can neither be created nor destroyed but transformed to another form. Passionate speeches replaced any discussion of policy.

Both campaigns will now attempt to defy gravity.

Webb: I thought the Republican convention was very effective and I expect it will give Trump a bump in Utah and nationally. The pageantry and stagecraft were superior to the Democratic convention, despite the Dems’ use of Hollywood celebrities. By contrast, the Republicans highlighted everyday heroes with compelling personal stories, and they were more convincing than the celebrities backing Joe Biden.

Republicans reached out far beyond their base with a remarkable diversity of speakers, most with positive, uplifting messages about the opportunity and greatness of America. The highlight was the many eloquent and persuasive Black Americans, all outspoken in their support for Trump.

In fact, many of the speakers were so good that Trump should switch places with Joe Biden and lock himself in the basement for the next two months. I’m only half-joking. Trump’s loyal supporters made a better case for Trump than he makes for himself. He should let these sensible, wholesome, uplifting regular citizens be the face of the campaign, not his ego and self-promotion.

If Trump could stop tweeting, stop going off on nonsensical tangents, and personally reflect the heartfelt goodness exhibited in the convention, he could actually win this thing.

The GOP opted out of a platform and instead passed a resolution stating, “The Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the president’s America-first agenda.” Is this the beginning of a trend?

Pignanelli: Since 1856, the GOP has articulated a platform of promises to voters. So, the 2020 truncated statement is fostering cynical allegations of a personality cult dominating the party. But honestly, who really reads platforms of political parties other than academics, ultra-activists and opponents looking for attack gems? National Democrats created an 80-page platform document never mentioned during prime time.

As political convocations evolve, detailed platforms of mainstream parties become extinct.

Webb: No one ever pays attention to platforms, so no big loss. But even without a GOP platform, the two conventions did present stark contrasts between the two parties and their candidates. Anyone who watched both conventions has a clear choice. 

I believe both parties include very good, well-meaning people who want what’s best for America. But, having watched both conventions, a fundamental difference is that Democrats believe that government, with its inherent use of coercion and tax dollars, is best positioned to fix America’s problems. Republicans want a greater reliance on individual freedom, responsibility and the private sector. Both philosophies can be taken to dangerous extremes, of course, but the Republican philosophy of limited government, more freedom, low taxes and personal responsibility has greater appeal to me.

Do both events confirm that virtual conventions will become permanent features for national and state politics?

Pignanelli: Future business meetings, including political gatherings, will be a hybrid of personal and web-based participation. Trump’s demolishing of almost every sacred tradition (many of them silly) will ease the development of changes.

Webb: The virtual conventions grew on me as the days went by. The wide variety of activities in symbolic locations (Republicans did it especially well) created faster-moving and more interesting conventions than watching speaker after speaker at the same podium before the same crowd, with numerous applause lines that slow down a speech.

Considering how quickly both parties had to change plans and go virtual, the conventions were remarkably entertaining, substantive and effective.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: frankp@xmission.com.