I knew the Republicans’ Convention would outclass the Democrats’ on every level — speakers, policies, sense and sensibility — except for one, production, but that turned out to be the coup de grâce. After all, the Democrats have Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, George Clooney, and Disney at their beck and call, more than enough Hollywood showmanship to overcompensate for the duel between a cadaverous, mentally collapsing candidate in the basement and a savvy longtime media star. Yet what they put on last week seemed like something out of Wayne’s World, whereas the GOP event was a Cecil B. DeMille epic by comparison.
Spielberg couldn’t have topped this in a film, especially one made for the Democrats.
The shocking disparity in audience appeal became obvious from the start of each convention on day one. Right out the gate, the Democrats went Hollywood, a strategy that proved counterproductive four years ago, but why should that have stopped them? Minor TV starlet Eva Longoria stepped out as hostess, acting more Latina than she ever did on Desperate Housewives by introducing herself as Eva Longoria Baston, accent on the “ston.” Longoria doubtless hoped to make the cut in her quickly minoritizing Industry as well as modern Democratic politics. She next recapped the misery of the past four months, as if the viewers needed the flashback, by implicitly blaming Trump for the China Virus. Then came a quick-cut montage of unattractive intersectional people reciting the Preamble to the Constitution, some in Spanish just in case you didn’t get the message, followed by a Brady Bunch–squared image of dozens more. The show went even darker with gloomy black-and-white still photos of Americans in masks going about their business, or protests, to a funereal version of “America the Beautiful.” Before full depression set in, the picture of a little black boy colorized into a video of him singing the National Anthem, soon picked up by other — yes, mostly minority — young people, again in The Brady Bunch boxes.
In contrast, the Republican Convention kicked off with a colorful, fluid, fast-moving montage reminiscent of the classic Hawaii Five-O main title sequence. It showed in rapid succession a circling shot of the Statue of Liberty, a waving American flag, a sunset view of the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial (a “two-for” in showbiz speak), Abe himself, the Iwo Jima Memorial, a pan of the actual Constitution document, rugged individual men and women looking like John Ford film icons, Space-X blasting off with the American flag clearly displayed, Donald Trump and Mike Pence proudly watching the launch, the heroic two astronauts doing their job, and Trump doing his. The president appeared mingling with people as stirring music and an unseen narrator (probably Jon Voight) listed his accomplishments.
Back in dreary Democrat Convention land, yet another celebrity, TV comedienne Julia Louis-Dreyfus, squandered 30 years of Seinfeld-built good will trying to dispel the gloom on night four. In one painfully unfunny routine, cutup Andrew Yang played Abbott to Dreyfus’ Costello as they discussed the vice presidential contest to, no kidding, a tinny piano.
“So what did you think of Kamala Harris’ speech last night?” asked Dreyfus.
“It was tremendous,” said Yang. “I was so happy for her.” …
“I cannot wait to see her discuss our current vice president, Mika Pines, or, ah, is it Paints?”
“It’s pronounced ‘Ponce,’ I believe,” said Yang.
“Oh, some kind of weird foreign name?”
“Yeah, not very American-sounding.”
“Yeah, that’s what people are saying,” said Dreyfus, adding, “Strongly.”
That skit drew groans instead of laughs, probably from Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Far more entertaining was the Melania Trump segment on night two of the GOP Convention, even before her uplifting speech. In an impressively expert sequence, the camera dollies forward more than 50 feet over an external White House walkway toward the approaching yet still-distant First Lady. It stops about 20 feet ahead of her, then tracks back with her walking to the podium in high heels like the runway model she was, the image of grace, something conspicuously missing from the other party.
Finally, in stark contrast to the Democratic gloom, came the spectacular conclusion of night three of the Republican Convention. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung, not by people in The Brady Bunch squares, but beautifully by country music star Trace Adkins amid flying American flags and before a live crowd at Fort McHenry, the very site that inspired it. Trump and Melania joined the Second Couple right after Mike Pence’s speech accepting his nomination for vice president. The four of them then celebrated with the crowd, including a group of cheerful wounded veterans, in a joyous finale. Spielberg couldn’t have topped this in a film, especially one made for the Democrats.
The inspirational approach seems to have paid off. C-SPAN viewership for the first night of the Republican Convention was six times higher than the Democratic opener. Much to my surprise, the Republicans stole the show.