What message did the Republicans' convention convey?

What message did the Republicans' convention convey?
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The Republican National Convention was called by some repetitive, traditional and even boring. But those critics missed the point: That’s exactly what it was supposed to be.

The GOP’s turn at a made-for-TV convention was the video version of Eastern European socialist architecture — a granite-faced expression of authority and security. Like those bulky buildings, this convention aimed to inspire a kind of awe, delivering four nights of imagery designed for the devoted.

The most obvious visual was the Mellon Auditorium in Washington. The Democrats used a generic studio as their connective TV tissue, then went to locations all across the country. But for the GOP, the auditorium was everything. Again and again, speakers marched out to the same camera angle displaying the same grand surroundings of marble columns and endless flags.


Compared to the Democrats, perhaps this looked uncreative. But the elevated location conferred authority and credibility on each speaker; the cathedral-like atmosphere bolstered the theme of good (us) versus evil (them). Even as the ear was hearing contradictions, darkness and distortions, the eye focused on images of trust and stability. Almost more than the White House, the auditorium was the RNC’s version of “The Apprentice” boardroom — the place where important things happen.

Instead of personal stories told from people’s homes, the RNC brought those people to the Mellon, where nearly all spoke in the same manner. They stood at the podium, read from a teleprompter and strained to address the hall as if it were filled to capacity. The DNC’s producers were obsessed with intimate eye-contact, connecting one-to-one with viewers on an emotional level. But that didn’t seem to be the GOP’s bottom line — cameras often cut away from the speaker to shots of the ornate sanctuary.

Watching Natalie Harp last Monday night, for example, was a different experience than viewing Braydon Harrington the week before. Both delivered stories about how a party leader changed their lives, but their surroundings deliberately sent different messages.  Harrington — a 13-year-old stutterer — spoke from his bedroom at home while Harp, a cancer survivor, delivered her story from the podium. Harrington’s visual told viewers a lot about him; Harp’s setting kept the focus on power, authority and the president.

Much of the RNC had a comparatively retro, old-school production feel; that was intentional too. The Democrats’ convention employed all the tools of digital technology, whipping viewers into homes across time zones, flinging us to the far ends of the American experience, accompanied by a cast of A-list celebrities that would make any studio chief jealous. But the Republican message was, in effect, “We don’t want — or need — a lot of that. We have plenty of razzle-dazzle because we have Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE.”

The president had effective simple moments: the pardon of Jon Ponder; his chat with frontline workers. And he had his South Lawn extravaganza, starting with a touch of Eva Peron at the White House balcony. He was all the star power that his show required.


And that spoke pointedly to the base: High-tech and Hollywood are bastions of the coastal establishments that their champion — “the bodyguard of Western civilization” — fights against. As Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) said in her speech from the auditorium: “We will not be subject to the elite class of so-called experts.”

Given the break-neck pace of news lately, it’s hard to say what kind of bounce — if any — Trump will get from last week’s convention. But it’s important not to underestimate what went on in Washington: The visuals dominating the Republican event delivered a simple message — like it or not — and repeated it early and often.

That’s a prime building block for effective mass communication and persuasion.

Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, a writer-producer for “Dateline NBC,” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on Twitter @ironworker1.