Estrich: Nothing really happens at political conventions, so end them

Posted8/25/2020 1:00 AM

I used to love political conventions. As a kid, I watched every minute on TV -- good and bad.

In 1964, I woke my parents urgently to tell them to send a telegram supporting Bill Scranton immediately or else Barry Goldwater would win and we would have nuclear war (which was sort of like the most famous commercial that then-President Lyndon Johnson used against him.)


I also watched the horrors in 1968. I stayed up half the night to hear George McGovern's speech in 1972 but was stuck in school in 1976.

In 1980, I ran something like 18 platform fights and traded the speaking time for four of them to get Ted Kennedy a speech at the Democratic National Convention.

The fight between then-President Jimmy Carter and Kennedy, and between their delegates, at the convention was red-hot. Carter had been unwilling to concede anything, and there I was in the middle of it, crying on the convention floor.

In 1984, I ran the platform committee. There were no floor fights at all, but our chair, my boss and dear friend, was accepting the nomination for vice president. It was an amazing moment when she took the podium. Women wept on the floor, and across America.

In 1988, I ran the convention. There were no floor fights. Ann Richards, the keynote, was running for governor of Texas. She was spectacular, saying, "George Bush was born with a silver foot in his mouth." I had this brilliant idea that we should combine all the 10-minute nominating speeches and have a 40-minute nominating speech by a gifted speaker who could make the case for Michael Dukakis.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

Mario Cuomo did just that for Bill Clinton four years later. Unfortunately, Clinton didn't quite do it for Dukakis; the only big applause came when he said, "In conclusion."

After 1988, I went to almost every convention as a pundit, first for ABC and then, for many years, as the house liberal on Fox News. I always had fun at conventions, except in 1992, when I was pregnant and kept getting called a "baby killer" from the minute I landed.

The point of all these stories is this: Nothing really happens at conventions. We hacks have a great time catching up. We pundits get to yack endlessly on TV, unraveling every detail as to how it might affect the campaign. We columnists have a surefire way to fill space.

But nothing has actually happened at a convention since 1980, when Carter refused to concede anything and had to follow Teddy around the podium to shake his hand.


Nothing like that has happened since. The platform is zealously controlled by the nominee.

And "nobody is watching."

The ratings on Monday were down 28% from Monday night in 2016. Actually, I had expected the number to be even larger for the convention with no people, no votes, no signs, no excitement. Tuesday night was mostly canned speeches.

Ratings were down only 28% because of how few even watched it in 2016. Roughly 26 million people watched night one then, and 138 million people voted in the election. So does it matter if it was only 19.7 million on night one this year?

When I went surfing after Monday's speeches, Maureen Dowd's "typo" in The New York Times about this being the first time since 1984 that a man and a woman ran on the ticket was getting more attention than any convention speeches.

The most important thing about a convention is to not let it get out of control. Every poll done since 1968 shows that if a nominee can't control his or her convention, voters think he or she can't control the country.

I have enormous confidence that Joe Biden and his team will restore America's sense of community so we can make America great again. But television stars? I have yet to meet a big-time Hollywood producer who can figure out how to make endless speeches exciting.

And need I add that the public foots a big part of the convention bill?

It's time to get rid of them.

Go to comments: 0 posted
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.