Commentary: How to Judge the Party Conventions

Jul 12, 2016

Want to be a political pundit?  Why not?  Everyone else is.

Here’s a starting place: Grading the success of the party nominating conventions.  Timing’s good – the Republican convention starts next Monday.

You get to grade the GOP and then do the same for the Democrats the following week.  The test, courtesy of a legendary pundit, the late David Broder, has only five questions.  You can award letter grades or pass/fail.

  First, did the nominee and party manage their own business well enough to give you confidence that they can govern the country?  A poorly-run or unruly convention is a bad sign.  Ask older Republicans about 1964 and older Democrats about 1968 and 1972.

Second, did the nominee and party create and communicate a coherent set of ideas for governing?  What is the 30-second “elevator speech” for the campaign?  If you’ve not heard one by the end of the convention it’s another bad sign.

Third, has the nominee enlisted the enthusiastic support of his or her own coalition – enough to win the election and deliver on the agenda?  Can Trump quell the open revolt in the GOP?  Can Clinton satisfy Sanders supporters?

Fourth, can the nominee and party appeal beyond their base?  Can Trump motivate voters beyond his rowdy core of disaffected whites?  Can Clinton reassemble the winning Obama coalition?

Fifth, does the party put future stars on highly-visible display, like Democrats did in 1988 with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in 2004?

Obviously both parties want to earn an A-plus on this test.  I think both of them will be disappointed.

Dr. Terry Smith is a political science professor at Columbia College, and a regular commentator for KBIA’s Talking Politics