PHILADELPHIA – One day in, the Democrats are behaving remarkably like the Republicans in this basic sense: The dissidents have made way more noise than the establishment was prepared for, so the vibe is much less like a coronation than the wedding for an arranged marriage where one side won’t contain its buyers’ remorse.
But in plenty of other ways, the back-to-back national conventions are shaping as another study in contrasts, the organizational and stylistic contradictions saying plenty about the very different personalities and belief systems of the two dominant national political parties – their shared resistance to insurrections from the ideological fringes notwithstanding
To be sure, the longstanding assumption the GOP will run its convention with businesslike, if not Teutonic, precision was contradicted from the opening moments in Cleveland last week, when the forces of opposition to Donald Trump launched their headline-grabbing surprise attack .
And the equally tried and true cliché about Democratic conventions, that disorganization and discontent are essentially required ingredients, was borne out even before the formal opening gavel fell (22 minutes late) when party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to step down in leaked email disgrace.
While Monday proved that neither camp could claim a 2016 monopoly on the “party in disarray” label, here are six instructive disparities between the conventions that should not be overlooked:
The Republicans had 2,472 delegates at their convention, a small enough number that they could all be seated on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena and a reflection of the party’s elitist views about apportioning power in the nominating contests and favoring small states over big ones. (Wyoming had almost half as many seats as Ohio.)
The Democratic roster is essentially twice as big at 4,764, so the delegations fill not only the literal “floor” of the Wells Fargo Center but the lower bowl of the hockey and basketball arena as well – emblematic of the “Big Tent” aspirations of the party as well as its controversial practice (which will be diluted for 2020) of supplementing the delegates allocated in the primaries and caucuses with 714 elected officials and party powers known as super delegates.
Neither party publishes a statistical profile of its convention goers, but the basics are unmistakable. The GOP delegates are overwhelmingly white, disproportionately male and skew older and much more Christian than the overall population – a reality obscured, for those watching at home, by the efforts the party made to direct publicity spotlights toward the relatively few black, disabled, Latino, young, Muslim or LGBTQ people in the room.
The Democrats fill the arena and promote at the podium a collection of humanity that party officials like to describe as “looking like America,” but which seems to exaggerate even the dramatic shifts toward multiculturalism within the population. In the first three hours, with organizers clearly trying hard to stress unity in the face of the lingering Bernie Sanders insurrection, there were a dozen white speakers, nine African Americans, six Hispanics, a 93-year-old, a 17-year-old and several open gays and lesbians– more diversity than the GOP mustered on stage all last week — and women outnumbered men by three to two.
Both conventions were in the premier cities in crucial general election swing states (Ohio has 18 electoral votes, Pennsylvania 20). That’s about where the staging similarities end. Cleveland’s sports arena and nearby convention center are in the heart of a resurgent and gleaming downtown. So the delegates, media and other GOP convention-goers could have been an intimate part of the center city fabric last week had not so many workday denizens decided to stay away rather than face the ultimately over-hyped protester forces while navigating a maze of high metal mesh fencing.
Philadelphia’s arena is at the outer edge of the city, in the middle of a vast 23,000-space parking lot it shared with separate baseball and football stadiums. The sports complex is six miles away, through the heart of South Philadelphia, from the undeniably historic but rough-at-the-edges downtown where the myriad caucuses, briefings, parties and conferences are taking place alongside the late summer work days.
Republicans are a right-to-work party, of course, and the overwhelmingly complex logistics involved in staging and executing the convention were carried out mainly by the low-cost bidders, who brought a we-can-fix-that spirit to a steady stream of failed tasks or unfinished business. The Democrats are a pro-union party, and organized labor’s work-to-the-rule sway was just as omnipresent. TV and radio crews were warned, for starters, not to touch any wire or cable longer than 30 feet without a union guy on the job. A member of the electrical union could charge $350 to drill a half-inch hole in some plywood. No printed placard could enter the hall absent the union “bug” stamp.
The GOP made no concerted efforts to encourage recycling. The Democrats had glass-or-metal, compostable and true trash bins arranged in triplicate all over the place.
The Republicans provided no close captioning under their jumbotrons in the hall. The Democrats got theirs going, albeit several hours late.
The Republicans left the rest rooms inside The Q just the way they were. The Democrats took down the men’s and women’s icons from the bathrooms near the Wells Fargo Center’s Section 123 and put up blue placards proclaiming each an “All Gender Restroom.” The signs quickly became a favorite stop for the selfie stick crowd.
No party’s fault. Cleveland was sunny and moderately hot and humid for four straight days. Philadelphia has so far toggled between tropically sweltering and so stormy that the giant press tents were partly evacuated in a thunderstorm downpour Monday evening.