Post-Mortem on DNC Convention

by Elvin Lim

The Democrats are enjoying a little bump from their convention last week, but it had little to do with Barack Obama, and a lot to do with Bill Clinton. The reason why Clinton’s speech worked was because he was specifically charged to address the substance of his speech to independents and older white males. He was very successful in making his speech appear reasonable, while delivering very partisan conclusions. As such, the speech was becomingly presidential.

Obama’s speech on the hand was predictable and tired. He seemed not to have recognized that he was in a very different position than four years ago. The language of empathy and hope falls on deaf ears when the speaker’s credibility has been tarnished. What his research team needs is a catalogue of facts, such as those presented by Bill Clinton, for making the case that the administration has made some progress on various fronts ahead of the presidential debates next month. Unlike Romney, Obama must walk a tightrope of appearing presidential when still appealing to his base. Facts, not emotions, are his best allies this time.

In the end, for better or for worse, elections are now about persons, not parties. Candidates make all kinds of promises and voters have to make their judgment calls by triangulating imperfect indices of credibility. This is why negative ads can be so damaging. But so can strategic endorsements. One of the most powerful moments in the Republican convention was when Ann Romney shed light on some of Mitt Romney’s  private acts of charity.

The rest of the Democratic convention was uninspiring. The choreography of minorities conspicuously put on display and the overplaying of the abortion issue crowded out precious time that could have been spent on putting a positive spin on Obama’s record and restoring his credibility. The choice of North Carolina as the convention site was possibly also based on hubris. Most polls since May have put NC in Romney’s column. The Democrats may have done better with a more defensive strategy and held their convention in states like Colorado or Virginia.

Looking ahead, the electoral dynamics are likely to change if for one reason alone: now that Romney is the official nominee, he can dip into the RNC’s funds to add to his already formidable war-chest. He may yet be able to make up the advantage Obama enjoys in the electoral college map.

Post-Mortem on RNC Convention

The Republicans’ convention bump for Mitt Romney appears to be muted. Why? There was a lot of bad luck. Going before the Labor Day weekend caused television viewership to go down by 30 percent, as did the competing and distracting news about Hurricane Isaac. The Clint Eastwood invisible chair was not a disaster, but a wasted opportunity that Romney’s advisors should have vetted. Valuable time that could have been spent promoting Romney (such as the video of him that had to be played earlier) before he came out to speak on prime time was instead spent in a meandering critique of Obama.

Obama’s first remarks about the convention was that it was something you would see on a black-and-white tv — a new spin on the Republican Party as allegedly backward, as opposed to the Democrat’s who lean “Forward.” The most revealing thing about the convention was that President George W. Bush was not asked to speak. Instead, he appeared in a video with the older Bush, possibly in a bid to mollify the presence of the younger. Republicans are still divided over Bush, which is why they continued their hagiography of Reagan in the convention. For all of Jeb Bush’s intonations for the Obama campaign to stop putting blame on the previous administration, the fact is that the convention conceded that George W. Bush was indeed a liability. “Forward” is a narrative that can work as long as the look immediately backwards isn’t too satisfying.

On the other side, Bill Clinton will of course make an appearance in Charlotte in next week. The Democrats have also wisely flooded the speakers’ list with women, to show that the Republicans’ paltry presentation of just five women represent the tokenism narrative that Democrats are trying to paint. Women are America’s numerically biggest demographic, and they are more likely to turn out than men (by 4 percent in 2008).

In this final stretch, the gurus are gunning straight for the demographics. Campaigning has become a science, albeit an imperfect one. The Romney campaign now knows that a generic refutation of the Obama’s performance about the economy, jobs, the national debt — which we’ve all been hearing about for nearly 4 years — is not going to change the underlying tectonics of voter sentiment. This is why they tried to elevate the Medicare issue last week, and why they’re trying the personalize Romney strategy this week. The latter is more likely to work, and it should be done quickly, because next week, the DNC intends to make America fall in love with Barack Obama again.

Pieces crossposted with Out on a Lim