Virtually the same? This year’s unconventional Democratic National Convention

Political Theater, Episode 140

New York Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand celebrate on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on the final night of the Democratic National Convention on July 28, 2016.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
New York Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand celebrate on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on the final night of the Democratic National Convention on July 28, 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:19pm

We don’t need hindsight to see that 2020 is a year unlike any other in recent memory. The coronavirus pandemic has touched every fiber of our lives and woven itself inextricably into the fold of presidential politics, including the national conventions blanketing the airwaves this week and next. 

Usually, the Republican and Democratic parties live up to their collective nouns and really get down at these weeklong rallies, but that’s a no-go with a pandemic raging. Instead of convening in person, the conventions are going virtual. It’s yet another wholly unconventional move made this year that still somehow feels inevitable and even downright sensible.

The conventions haven’t served their original purpose — actually picking a presidential candidate — since 1952. Both parties shifted to letting primaries and caucuses select their electoral champions — a move begun during the Progressive Era that accelerated in 1968 following the chaos that unfurled outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago when several nights of protests led to a clash between police and demonstrators. The last time there was even a specter of doubt about who’d be the nominee was in 1980, when Ted Kennedy made a late push to replace President Jimmy Carter on the Democratic ticket. So perhaps it makes sense to finally drop the pretenses and hold an eight-hour infomercial over four nights.

In a way, it’s a callback to an earlier time — campaigns used to regularly buy up prime-time, hourlong blocks on the networks to make televised appeals to the electorate. The pandemic has brought the parties full circle.

To talk about this year’s decidedly different DNC, we spoke with Julia Terruso, 2020 presidential campaign reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer. We also talked about the state of the race in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state for the Biden campaign.

Show Notes: