Here’s Why The Republican and Democratic Conventions Matter

Arguably, the national Democratic and Republican conventions have dramatically declined in importance since the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when Hubert Humphrey managed to win the Democratic presidential nomination without winning a single state primary. The McGovern-Fraser commission was established following the 1968 debacle to democratize the convention delegate selection process. Reforms set in motion laws requiring state primary elections to select delegates rather than party leaders. Eventually the Republican Party followed suit. Today, the Republican and Democratic party conventions are an amalgamation of political theater, posturing, but also a competition for power among intra-party groups.

Although some doubt the relevance of the conventions, I would argue there is still something to be learned. One first has to recognize that political parties are not ideological monoliths, but rather an amalgamation of diverse interests and groups that don’t always obviously go together. However, the only way for these different groups to get what they want is to win elections, and they can only win elections by forming coalitions.

Coalitions are difficult to maintain and different groups within the party compete for relative dominance. For instance, social conservatives and foreign policy hawks arguably have for a number of years been the dominant forces of the GOP. However, with the 2008 financial crisis and government’s excessive and likely ineffective response, socially moderate steadfast fiscal conservatives and libertarians have emerged as a formidable force threatening to take the dominant lead in the Republican Party (at least for now).

Consequently, the Republican and Democratic conventions showcase the dynamic interplay between competing groups and ideologies within each party. Observing the respective strategic approaches the Romney and Obama campaigns take are indicative of how they are managing their internal party quarrels while also trying to appeal to the general public.

The individuals selected to speak at the convention, the order and timing of each speech, and each speeches’ content will reveal a great deal about which political groups are likely winning the battle for internal dominance. Moreover, the response to the convention speakers will also reveal how the media and the public is responding to the dynamic interplay within parties to build coalitions while also catering to the general public.

Politico has a list of tonight’s speakers scheduled to open the 2012 Republican National Convention; several deserve extra attention.

1)    Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: Walker withstood a recall after taking on public sector unions to balance the state budget. Despite unions' impressive political power, funded by mandated membership dues, Walker kept the governorship indicating to political officials throughout the country that it’s politically feasible to reform public sector unions. (Read here for Shikha Dalmia’s clever description of Walker as a panicked accountant.)

2)    Republican Texas Senate Candidate Ted Cruz: Although the Texas political establishment liked Cruz, they had chosen Lieut. Gov. David Dewhurst as their next Texas Senate candidate. However, former Solicitor General of Texas Ted Cruz had the support of grassroots tea party groups throughout the state which propelled Cruz into the primary run-off and to an unlikely yet dramatic win in July 2012.

3)    South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley: Haley also rode the Tea Party wave, but back in 2010. However, she has since angered many tea partiers and libertarians in the state. For this reason, her approach at the convention will be especially interesting.

4)    Mrs. Ann Romney: The wife of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney for 43 years, many expect Ann Romney to help reveal the real Mitt Romney, to the extent possible in one speech.

5)    New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: entertaining, hard-hitting, and sometimes offensive. He says things that need to be said and other things that shouldn’t, but does it regardless of others' expectations. 

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    One first has to recognize that political parties are not ideological monoliths, but rather an amalgamation of diverse interests and groups that don’t always obviously go together.

    And you'll see the lowest common denominator represented on stage. For the Republican Convention, it will be the fail that is Barack Obama. For the Dems, that will be the horror that would be President Mitt Romney.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Horsefeathers. We can observe all of the "dynamic interplay" we want without blowing enormous sums of taxpayer money on these circuses.

    Besides, the "dynamic interplay" isn't particularly important anyway. It's bullshit theater to convince voters that participating in the "political process" matters.

  • sarcasmic||

    I thought these circuses were funded by donations to the Parties, not by the taxpayers.

  • ||

    Who pays for the massive police presence? The Secret Service?

  • Pro Libertate||

    The black SUVs?

  • ||

  • Pro Libertate||

    If the whores give free sexual favors, does that count as an in-kind donation to the political campaign? Or is it protected speech?

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    I'm thinking it's protected speech. If a woman is giving a free sexual favor then she is at that moment in time not a whore but a slut and therefore the activity cannot be an in-kind donation. Lawrence v Texas makes it protected activity/speech.

  • Pro Libertate||

    If she's giving the favor to him directly, I agree. However, if she is giving the favor to others on his behalf--to, for example, get a Paul delegate to change his vote--I think that's an in-kind donation.

  • R C Dean||

    If it is intended to advance the campaign, then I think its an in-kind donation.

    Of course, its also protected speech, but we all know that campaign finance laws are largely exempted from the First Amendment.

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    I think Pro Lib's example is more of a bribe but the general point still stands. If the whore is providing a service to say a sign maker making signs for the politician then it's an in-kind donation.

  • Pro Libertate||

    The good news is that somewhere, this is happening.

  • Pro Libertate||

    "Send in the whores."

  • Tim||

    I'm guessing that the Secret Service agents themselves are under a virtual house arrest, given the proximity and number of strip clubs in Tampa. Poor bastards.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I love the media focusing so much on the strippers here, with the clear implication that Republicans are particularly prone to employing the services of such women. As if the exact same things wouldn't be happening here if Tampa were hosting the Democratic convention.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    I've seen figures for the security on the order of $50 million. I can't substantiate the number at the moment but you've got to figure that's pretty expensive, and not just for the feds.

    The FEC website says "Each major political party is entitled to $4 million (plus cost-of-living adjustments)to finance its national Presidential nominating convention."

  • wareagle||

    "entitled to". How nice for them.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Why? Why is there any official recognition of any political party whatsoever? What's the justification for doing that? Not the real answer--we all know that--but the official justification?

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    The website doesn't address that. It mentions the legislation passed authorizing it but doesn't go into the why of it.

    I'd guess that the official reason is that in the statist fantasy world it stops the monocle-sporting plutocrats from buying elections.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Stops or enables?

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Oops, the FEC website has a footnote: " In 2012, the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) brought the convention committee entitlement to a total of $18.2 million."

  • Pro Libertate||

    Ye gods.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    And that's just the money that's turned directly over to the party convention committees. The other costs (e.g. security) are on top of that.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Egad.

  • R C Dean||

    Gadzooks!

  • JW||

    Zounds!

  • LTC(ret) John||

    S'wounds!

  • ||

    Sacre bleu!

  • Pro Libertate||

    The Bishop!

  • ||

    Although some doubt the relevance of the conventions, I would argue there is still something to be learned

    I would argue that there isn't. If, after the convention, you have learned anything new about the candidates or the parties that you didn't already know and expect, then you will have proven me wrong, but I have a high confidence that none of us will learn nothing new.

  • Archimedes||

    Chris Christie will teach you how to give a speech while eating a rack of ribs

  • Bardas Phocas||

    A Christie fat joke.
    I did not expect one of those.

    How about the God hates the Repubs because of Issac - except now it looks like God hates New Orleans.

  • Tim||

    Wanna bet that the cat I storm still levels the place?

  • Archimedes||

    and Dubyah is home doing nothing about it. Like he's still president.

  • wareagle||

    and Obama's campaigning in IA. And he is president.

  • pip||

    God has always hated New Orleans.

  • $park¥||

    He's probably just trying to clear out all the voodoo zombies.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    As P.J. O'Rourke accurately described NOLA - "a high crime drainage ditch".

  • Tim||

    The Ron Paulians got the Fredo treatment. No nothing new to learn.

  • Mike M.||

    They all got taken out on Lake Tahoe and shot?

  • R C Dean||

    Geez, would it kill you to give a SPOILER ALERT?

  • Zeb||

    "Herbert Humphrey"??

  • A Serious Man||

    Hubert's evil twin, he had a goatee and was only foiled by a shirtless and interdimensional traveling William Shatner.

  • Tim||

    I don't think the conventions mean anything, just a week long party to reward the hacks.

  • BarryD||

    "One first has to recognize that political parties are not ideological monoliths, but rather an amalgamation of diverse interests and groups that don’t always obviously go together."

    My Team is an amalgamation of diverse interests and groups.

    The Other Team consists of several million evil clones, completely identical, and defined entirely by what is worst about them.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Your team is a bunch of battle droids?

  • $park¥||

    Team Rebel Alliance vs Team Galactic Empire

  • BarryD||

    "One first has to recognize that political parties are not ideological monoliths, but rather an amalgamation of diverse interests and groups that don’t always obviously go together."

    My Team is an amalgamation of diverse interests and groups.

    The Other Team consists of several million evil clones, completely identical, and defined entirely by what is worst about them.

  • ChrisO||

    It's the broadcast networks that will determine the fate of the conventions. If they continue to pull the plug on coverage, expect the conventions to shrink and eventually disappear. They are nothing more than advertising.

  • Archimedes||

    Look for fair and balanced coverage of the Republitard convention on The Daily Show!

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Conventions can generally be summed up in a single word... "Meh". Or, if feeling more curmedgeonly... "Bah".

  • Paul.||

    I'm a little slow on the news uptake this week. Is there some event happening that's important to one of the political parties? Somewhere where they're expecting some heavier-than-normal rains?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Dude, that storm has sailed. It's not even raining at all right now.

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