Democratic Convention: what are we watching?

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The last stretch of the 2020 presidential election begins today with the Democratic convention. The troops of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have four days to present their ideas and try to generate enthusiasm among voters.

This year, COVID-19 is forcing major political parties to innovate and it is the Democrats who risk it first. If there are no formal rules for determining the order of conventions, we respect the tradition according to which the outgoing president speaks last.

If the conventions have become a little kitsch over time and the unfolding is known to all fans of American politics, social distancing will allow us to experience a first historic moment since the advent of television. Not only can we now follow everything on multiple platforms, but the vast majority of interventions will be virtual.

Officially, Milwaukee is the center of this convention, but the speakers will be divided between four locations. If such a format allows all the short interventions to be scripted as much as possible, it will be a colossal challenge to create a coherent whole and, above all, a rhythm which makes it possible to maintain interest.

We cannot be satisfied with an accumulation of small video clips to keep people’s attention between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. every evening. To promote an impression of “naturalness”, the reactions of supporters or activists will be displayed in real time. Democrats are thus taking a risk since we do not fully control the appearance and content of the interventions. It is not impossible that we are entitled to some little surprises.

Beyond the technical prowess and the organization of this first virtual convention, I offer you a few things to watch out for between now and Thursday evening. Here are a few things I’ll take a look at:

1. Since Joe Biden racked up the number of delegates to win the nomination, Democrats have been remarkably united. The contrast is stark with the preparations for the 2016 Democratic convention. Bernie Sanders supporters were still angry and some of them did not show up on voting day.

You may have already noticed that Bernie Sanders will be speaking tonight, as will several other progressives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Their contribution is essential. It is often said that every vote counts, we must now ensure that as many progressives as possible come on November 3.

2. Beyond the contribution of progressives, we must generate genuine enthusiasm. We already know that supporters of Donald Trump have unwavering confidence in their leader and that they are relentless. Achieving such conviction and such passion is not easy, but we must approach it.

By enlisting the services of Kamala Harris, Joe Biden seems to have achieved a better deal than he expected. Since the announcement of Ms. Harris’ candidacy, the historic nature of her appointment is stimulating the electorate more than expected.

3. Not only must this convention bring together and motivate, it must also appeal to independents or, better, Republicans who want Donald Trump to leave. Biden and Harris don’t seem too progressive or too revolutionary to them. If you were wondering why former Ohio Governor John Kasich will be speaking at the convention, it’s to speak to them directly.

Democrats are well aware of the strategic errors of the 2016 campaign and this time we will not neglect Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. Kasich is for many a more moderate republican, a politician accustomed to courting an electorate who oscillates between the two major political parties.

4. We expect Democrats to exploit the President’s poor leadership since the start of the pandemic as well as his repeated attacks on political institutions. For my part, I will be watching closely what the Democrats offer economically. Donald Trump will be able to remind voters that before COVID-19 hit, the economy had seen an interesting period.

The polls, though unfavorable to the president on the whole, show that Americans still consider Donald Trump to be the best to lead them to prosperity. Democrats will have to avoid the trap of defensive strategy alone and put forward a solid program. Usually Bill Clinton is called in for this task and he will be present.

There you have it, these are a few things that I will be watching over the next four days. Convincing, seducing and stimulating in virtual mode is a major challenge. However, even a successful convention would not be a guarantee of victory.

In 2016 the Democrats had carried out a very disciplined and straight-forward operation. All the stars and the most eye-catching politicians had respected the script. On the Republican side, we did not feel the passion of the members of the party and the boondoggles were numerous. This did not prevent Donald Trump from creating a surprise.

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