Politicon was conceived as the Comic-Con for politics, a gathering of political junkies who can’t get enough of partisanship from cable TV, talk radio, and late-night television. They need to see and hear the political figures in person.
But just as Comic-Con has become much more than its original intent — comic book collecting — Politicon shows signs of actually being a platform for cable news promotion and energizing activists.
Here’s what stood out at this year’s event:
The Crowds. Organizers said about 10,000 people attended over the two days, easily eclipsing last year’s draw.
While that is a far cry from Comic-Con, it’s proof that people will pay $50 per day’s admission to see in-person pundits and media figures who are a constant presence on TV, radio, and the Internet. Some 3,000 people attended a debate between Ben Shapiro, the conservative political commentator, and Cenk Uygur, the progressive host of “The Young Turks.”
Those who attended seemed to enjoy the idea of a collective gathering and of mixing it up with the other side, even if it’s unlikely that many minds were changed. This is still politics as entertainment, more the tone of talk radio than the great debating society.
2016 Redux. Just across the street from the event on Colorado Avenue, supporters of Donald Trump set up Make America Great Again banners. On Saturday, just outside the security fence, a small group of anti-Trump activists shouted “fascist” while counter pro-Trump demonstrators called them “snowflakes.” A number of attendees even came with the red MAGA caps.
At Politicon, the 2016 campaign never really ended. Some of the panels tried to dissect what Trump did right and what Hillary Clinton did wrong, but at times it did take on the aura of a rally. As Chelsea Handler debated Tomi Lahren in the Civic Auditorium, Trump backers took to chanting “USA! USA” and, when there was mention of Clinton and her emails, they started on “Lock Her Up.”
We almost got the real thing: Anthony Atamanuik performed as Trump on Saturday night, even berating people as they left early, just as Trump targets hecklers at his rallies when security is having them removed.
That said, there was plenty of talk of what Democrats need to do to get out of the wilderness in advance of 2018 and 2020. James Carville thinks that the party has to run on the “28th Amendment,” a constitutional amendment to get corporate money out of politics that would at the same time serve the party well as a reform message.
Russia, Russia, Russia. Vladimir Putin’s role in the 2016 campaign, and the ongoing investigation over possible collusion with the Trump team, was the topic of a number of panels and an undercurrent at others.
Trump supporters cited a media fixation with Russia in trying to make their point of bias against the administration, while plenty of others could not be clearer in warning about the consequences of dismissing allegations of a foreign government’s interference.
David Frum, columnist for The Atlantic and speechwriter for President George W. Bush, called it “the most ominous espionage investigation in the history of the U.S.” Lahren, appearing on the same panel, said that “Average Americans don’t have time to be obsessed with Russia.”
No Scaramucci, But… Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s incoming communications director, cancelled on Thursday, as he was under fire for an expletive filled conversation he had with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza. There still was former Trump adviser Roger Stone, though, and he didn’t disappoint, appearing on panels on everything from Watergate to weed. Regaling in stories that go back decades, he noted that W. “snorted so much cocaine, he had a personal thank you note from Pablo Escobar.”
Although Stone is a die-hard Trump defender, having a hand in his decision to enter politics, he said that he disagrees with the President’s decision to ban transgender individuals in the military as well as drug policy.
He’s also not missing Reince Priebus.
Paucity of Policymakers. What Politicon did lack were elected officials. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) were among those currently in government who attended panels, but what the event needs are more of them. Time and again, Trump backers on panels blamed the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare squarely on congressional Republican leadership, expressing anger that the latest legislation failed even after seven years of promises.