PHILADELPHIA — Journalists who trekked to both conventions knew that the atmosphere of each party gathering would be different — what they didn’t expect was how much different they would be.
So much of the story at the Republican Convention was who wasn’t there; for the Democrats, the reverse was true, as the concern was whether the prelude to Hillary Clinton’s moment would be upstaged by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, and others.
All of this may not matter in the long run, even if Donald Trump is well attuned to star power and celebrity (two years ago he actually tweeted dating advice to Katy Perry). Trump is running an anti-establishment campaign — and he’ll probably play up that fact in the coming days.
But from the angle of showmanship, this was a very successful convention, with some exceptions.
1. Michelle Obama. Her speech on Monday, in which she invoked the legacy of her husband’s eight years in office and offered a lens into the future of America through the hopes of her two daughters, was easily the best of the night — and possibly the entire convention. Until the president spoke.
2. Barack Obama. The president is now a veteran of Democratic conventions, making his fourth appearance in 12 years. But in one of the most stirring speeches he has ever delivered, Obama set the narrative — better than anybody else, in a way that only he could — about what a Clinton presidency would mean for jobs, the economy, and the country at large. He also helped create one of the most stirring images of the week, when Clinton emerged from backstage to embrace the president for having her back.
3. Hillary Clinton. Even if she was the third-strongest speaker at her own convention, Clinton made an effective case to voters for why they should choose her over Trump. And she delivered several lines that will continue to become themes of her campaign, including when she noted the historic nature of her nomination. “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” she said, to an auditorium of roars.
4. Chelsea Clinton. In the battle of candidate’s daughters, Ivanka Trump’s introduction of her father may have been one of the highlights of the RNC. But Chelsea’s address was even better. What was so striking was, for someone who has shied away from the spotlight her entire life, how personal the speech felt. The former (and maybe future) First Daughter recalled how her mom read her “A Wrinkle in Time” and wanted to watch “Pride and Prejudice” on movie night.
5. The producing team. The heavy presence of musical acts, celebrity speeches, and Hollywood-produced film shorts at times resembled an award show — they even managed a “Cagney & Lacey” reunion. Executive producers Ricky Kirshner and Vicangelo Bulluck are veteran award show and event producers, and at times it seemed as if they were heeding Trump’s call for more showbiz in the convention rather that an endless stream of policy speeches. But the convention planners did a great job of avoiding cheesiness and maximizing the dramatic effect, particularly in the series of convention videos on President Obama (co-produced by Davis Guggenheim) and Clinton (co-produced by Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers). Far often than not, the timing and placement of entertainment fused well with emotional moments, particularly on the final night, which featured tributes to fallen police officers, a speech from the father of a Muslim soldier killed in Iraq and, of course, Clinton’s speech.
6. Bundlers. A contingent of top-dollar fundraisers, who trekked to Cleveland and watched the convention from the Wells Fargo Arena suite of Haim Saban, left Philadelphia with a sense of enthusiasm. It also helped that finance committee members were treated to post-convention parties with Clinton late on Thursday and with her husband on Tuesday night. One top Hollywood bundler said he was so jazzed by the way the convention went that he planned to make a play for winning over longtime Republican donors in Los Angeles — believing that the convention succeeded in uniting, to a degree, the progressive side of party while making an appeal to GOPers dismayed by Trump. A a convention bounce is important given Clinton’s frequent fundraising visits to Hollywood and Los Angeles — and she’ll be returning on Aug. 22.
7. “Police Academy.” Bill Clinton admitted it — he once watched all six “Police Academy” movies in succession. It’s been no secret that Clinton is a huge fan of movies, but his love of the franchise became a running joke during the week. If Hillary wins the White House, perhaps a White House screening room reunion is in order?
8. Local newscasts. Broadcast networks limited their coverage of the conventions to an hour each night of primetime — but it didn’t seem to matter to the parties, who went over the 11 p.m. hour, when stations start their local newscasts and see great profit. Broadcasters are left little choice but to stay on the air: What are they going to do, cut away from Obama or Clinton or Trump as they give their speeches?
9. Bernie or Bust. It’s rare to see a group jeer so fervently — during their own party’s convention. But despite calls for party unity from even Bernie Sanders, a small contingent of his backers continued to show poor sportsmanship by loudly booing throughout the convention speeches, distracting speakers and derailing their momentum at the podium. This group of disgruntled voters also protested outside the convention, with the inexplicable chant, “A vote for Clinton is a vote for Trump.”
10. Anybody trying to get anywhere. For anyone covering the Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia was an exercise in tough logistics. Secret Service set up a maze of security perimeters and barriers, and access inside the Wells Fargo Center was a patchwork of restricted sections requiring yet another credential to display. It was all for good reason, but exacerbating the situation was the locale of the convention itself — four miles outside of downtown Philadelphia, making for a bifurcated convention and a strange scramble at evening’s end to return to hotels via subway and Uber.