What to expect at the national party conventions

As part of an op-ed series, FIU News shares the expertise and diverse perspectives of members of the university community. In this piece, Sara Moats, an instructor in the Department of Politics and International Relations, discusses five things to watch for at the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.


By Sara Moats, Ph.D.

The 2016 Presidential election has been very unique, to say the very least. The last year has been both exciting and perplexing as our nation watched the election season unfold. With announcements, debates and primary election battles, the campaign trail has, at times, resembled a reality TV show more so than a presidential election.

The primary elections held in the states produced a “presumptive nominee” for each party. Now, each party must formally nominate its candidate for the election during the national party conventions. These conventions will be held over the next two weeks, starting with the Republican Party Convention July 18-21 in Cleveland, Ohio followed by the Democratic Party Convention July 25-28 in Philadelphia, PA.

As the next phase of the 2016 election season commences, what are the five things we should focus on?

1. What are nominating conventions and what is their purpose?

At first glance, a party convention seems like a large celebration. There are music, balloons, celebrities and moving speeches. However, the festivities take a backseat to the real purpose of a nominating convention: to formally select the party’s nominee for president and vice president.

It is equally important for the political party to use convention time to reach out to the voters. This event is used to showcase the president and vice president nominees, show a unified front and build support for the party’s platform – each of which will be used to launch momentum going into the general election in November.

2. Party Unity

Throughout the primary season, candidates of the same party battle each other for the nomination. Once the primaries conclude, the political and/or ideological differences between the candidates fade and party unity becomes a central theme.

Hillary Clinton has been the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for approximately one month, yet Bernie Sanders refused to formally endorse Clinton until Tuesday, July 12. Although delayed, his endorsement was greatly important in terms of convincing the millions of Sanders supporters to “bury the hatchet” and support Clinton. Sanders is also expected to deliver a primetime speech during the convention to continue the unification of the party.

For the Republicans, unification has proved extremely difficult. Republican Party leaders are very uneasy about the notion of Donald Trump as the nominee. The divisions within the party are so deep that several high-ranking Republicans such as John McCain, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio are planning to skip the Republican Convention.

It is necessary Trump find common ground with Republican leadership. If the party does not present a united front behind his campaign, it will appear weak and indecisive to the voters. Thus, next week it is expected that Trump will appear more polished and presidential, less abrasive and argumentative.

3. Party Platform

The convention is used to announce the party’s political platform and subsequently rally support for the policies.

Over the last few months, both the Democratic and Republican Parties have solicited voter feedback through social media and online polls in an attempt to gain a better perspective on voter preferences. Once announced, the party platform will become a set of principles all candidates rally around, not simply the presidential candidates.

Bernie Sanders has widely influenced the Democratic platform. Much of Sanders’ progressive agenda is expected to be included in the Democratic Party platform. This will further unify the Democratic party and encourage voters once “Feeling the Bern” to transfer that support to Clinton.

4. Vice President Selections

The vice president selection is very important. Theoretically, the running mate should further unify the party by pulling support from a different segment of the party. For example, Trump’s running mate is expected to be very politically experienced and also appeal to the party’s conservative ideology. This would further ease tensions with party leadership.

With the Republican National Convention only days away, Trump’s selection is expected at any moment. While purely speculative, two individuals have consistently been mentioned: Former Representative Newt Gingrich and Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Gingrich would likely create more controversy than unification. Considering Trump has no trouble creating controversy, Governor Pence would likely be a more stable running mate.

Expect Clinton to make her vice presidential announcement next week during the Republican National Convention. In the political world, timing is everything. This would shift focus briefly from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. In terms of individual names, speculation has focused on Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Virginia Senator Timothy Kaine.

5. Convention Speakers

High-ranking party leaders in attendance at the conventions are expected to deliver primetime speeches. Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, for instance, is expected to deliver a speech next week at the Republican National Convention.

In addition, the parties have historically showcased young politicians during their convention. Then-Senator Barrack Obama spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Senator Marco Rubio delivered a speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Thus, pay close attention to the rising stars, as it is very possible these individuals will be presidential candidates in the future.

Sara Moats office photoSara Moats is an instructor in the Department of Politics and International Relations. Her courses include Interest Group Politics, American Federalism and Environmental Politics.

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