GOP convention highlights party in disarray
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Since the current primary and caucus system was introduced in 1976, the parties' nominating conventions have become elaborate examples of scripted political theater. The main reason is that the nominees have been known, for the most part, by mid-March or early April of an election year. Nominations are decided in advance because of the requirement that most delegates are pledged to vote for the candidate they endorsed on at least the first ballot.


With a three- to four-month lead time, the presumptive nominees and their campaign staffs have a chance to develop the primary thematic content of their campaign and weave it into a biographical video that highlights their nominees' experience and personal traits. They also lay out their main issue agenda for the general election campaign. The convention itself — held across four days — begins with the introduction of party leaders and loyalists who have speaking roles. On the second day, the party platform is discussed and voted upon. The third night involves voting for the nominee and the vice-presidential candidate, who has been announced in advance. And on the fourth night, the biographical video is used to introduce the candidates for their acceptance speeches and to kick off the general election campaign.

Even though Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (Vt.) didn't endorse Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Even the Post Office is political now | Primary action tonight | Super PACS at war Should Biden consider a veteran for vice president? Biden leads Trump by nearly 40 points in California: poll MORE until two weeks before the Democratic convention opens, it has been clear for some time that Clinton would be the nominee, and her campaign staff has been able to plan accordingly. While the keynote speakers are only now being announced, we can expect an orderly and organized progression to her acceptance speech on July 28.

On the Republican side, it is a different story. One news story leading up the start of the convention will certainly be the number of party leaders who will not attend and therefore won't speak at the convention because they have declined to endorse Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary MORE. This includes the two living Republican presidents and the last two unsuccessful Republican candidates. The list also includes the governor of the state hosting the convention, John Kasich of Ohio, who has not indicated that he will attend; he has not been given a speaking role. Trump had reportedly invited sports figures to speak in place of leading Republicans, but even some of those rumors have turned out to be false.

The Democrats produced a platform draft from their committee quite early, while the Republicans only finished their work a few days ago. The draft suggests that the Republican document is going to take a conservative turn, especially on many planks related to domestic social issues. While the Trump forces are now firmly in control of the convention's business, there is very likely going to be a floor fight over the language in some of the planks. There will certainly be organized demonstrations outside the convention hall by interest groups opposed to some of the planks as well.

What this all means is that we may be seeing the end of the Republican party as a national force in presidential elections. They are thematically divided into at least three groups: economic conservatives, social conservatives and Tea Party anti-government forces. Republicans remain very strong at the state and local level, but the disarray at their convention is a harbinger of a diminished national role in politics in the foreseeable future.

Traugott is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Michigan.

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