Estrich color 2007 (copy) (copy)

Susan Estrich

Modern conventions don’t decide anything. Historically, there occasionally have been votes that mattered — not on the roll call for president but on the seating of all-white delegations, or the inclusion of reproductive freedom and gay rights in the platform.

The candidate and his staff decide everything. They decide who speaks and what they say (yes, speeches are reviewed for length and content, which doesn’t mean you can tell a candidate’s wife what to say). It’s a television extravaganza, a four-night advertisement during which nothing is heard but applause and wild cheers from the extras — I mean, delegates.

Which is why, every cycle, the networks cut way back on their coverage. Polls have consistently showed that if a nominee loses control of his convention, he almost certainly will lose the election. A few platform fights are OK; the nominee will always say that it is the party’s platform, even if his own people wrote every word of it. The measure of success is not counted in votes but in ratings and in polls. The “convention bounce,” it’s called.

But what about the delegates, you might ask. Nobody gets to be a delegate unless the candidate’s team approves, a rule that grew out of juvenile efforts to put up delegates who had secretly agreed to be disloyal. What delegates mostly do, what makes conventions fun, is go to parties. There are countless parties every night, sponsored by special interest groups that also take skyboxes for the convention. I made many friends in the distilled beverage industry.

I mention skyboxes because spending a night on the convention floor can be — what is the word — unpleasant. Forget the fact that you have to allocate an extra hour to move through security and get to where you’re going. Where you’re going is most likely the floor — the sticky, crowded, litter-full floor. And every night, getting across the floor, moving around the floor, walking from a delegation in the front to one in the back, takes longer than the night before, culminating in the acceptance speech, when the floor is packed, with the balloons dropping, musicians singing and playing.

Nirvana. At least it was for me in my 20s and early 30s. By my late 30s, I was in a network skybox and happy for it. Even in the best of circumstances, the floor is packed with sweaty bodies, paraphernalia, signs, posters. So, as a matter of fact, is the podium, full of people on it, under it, behind it. Then there are the trailers, packed with the people calling the shots to the floor — calling every vote, that is.

Which is why North Carolina was completely right in telling the president that COVID-19 could easily sicken and ultimately kill people unless social distancing rules are followed. Conventions may be fun, but they are not worth risking your life.

President Donald Trump was already angry that the virus, which he tried to dismiss at the outset as a political ploy — a hoax, even — had already doomed his plan to run on the strong economy. Experts suggest that if we had started social distancing a week earlier, when the president was being briefed daily on the threat posed, some 35,000 lives would have been saved. Having already undermined his sure shot of reelection, Trump was not going to let it take away his audience and ruin his television show. Priorities.

It is reported that the “business” of the convention will take place in Charlotte, as per the rules, but the main event — the Donald — will be in Jacksonville, Florida, perhaps the only place that would agree to take the huge risks the convention entails.

Because even if you never set foot in the convention hall, the delegates/staffers/media do get to leave the hall, and when they do — say, for breakfast, lunch or dinner — the risk goes up for everybody in the community, not to mention for all the locals who are making their beds, cleaning their toilets, cooking, cleaning and fixing the air conditioning.

Jacksonville is hoping for a boost to its economy, but the damage to its residents and its reputation will last far longer. As for Trump’s convention bounce, it won’t do him much good if his convention is buffeted, as it will be, by protests outside and, within a week or two, by a spike of sickness in Florida and all the communities the delegates go home to — in all 50 states.

All so Trump can have more people cheering him.

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