Conventions are virtually a waste of time

Aug 17, 2020


  Commentary: At the Republican National Convention of 1952, supporters of Dwight D. Eisenhower worked to have 42 delegates stripped from states that were supportive of his main opponent, Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio. Still, Eisenhower didn’t win the nomination until Harold Stassen offered his votes.

At the Democratic Convention that year, ballots were cast for 16 different candidates on the first vote. Estes Kefauver led after the first round before Harry Truman tilted the scales for Adlai Stevenson.

That was the last time nominees were selected at the convention. There have been rumblings of a brokered convention since then, most notably orchestrated by Ronald Reagan in 1976 and Ted Kennedy in 1980. 


I always get my hopes up anytime there is talk of a brokered convention, including last year when it looked like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders might battle all the way through the primaries.

But it never happens. Party leaders don’t share my desire for high drama and unknown outcomes at the convention. 

And so, what we get now is a tightly scripted, neatly packaged show that runs for four days. It has lights, music, balloon drops, confetti drops, delegates in goofy hats, famous people caught on camera, and, of course, speeches. All building up to a climactic finish.

What we never get is drama … not unless something has gone wrong.

This year we won’t even get the pageantry, just the speeches. And, they will be delivered in the manner we have become accustomed to, by one person alone in a room speaking into a camera and likely not wearing long pants.

The list of things that I’ve missed since the start of the pandemic is lengthy, but it does not include political conventions.

There have been some important moments at political conventions in recent years, but they rarely involve the nominee. Barack Obama was unknown outside of Illinois when his speech in 2004 stole the spotlight from John Kerry.

Susana Martinez had by far her best political moment at the 2012 convention when she told the story about working for her father as a young girl, guarding the parking lot with a gun that was bigger than she was.

But, for the most part, conventions have become long, boring, self-congratulatory, made-for-TV extravaganzas that have no real impact on the process and do nothing to help voters make a more-informed decision.

I have been looking forward to this November ever since election night in 2016. I’ve sat through impeachment hearings and daily coronavirus press conferences. I wouldn’t call my interest in this election obsessive, but others might.

And yet even I am not going to watch the conventions. Well, I wrote that Sunday, and it’s probably not true. I probably will watch, but my weakness doesn’t change the point.

Political conventions are a waste of time. They once played an important role in the poicess, but that was long before most of us can remember. Now they only serve to increase the public’s distaste for politics.

For all of its failings, such as letting Iowa go first, our primary voting process now is a big improvement over the days when candidates were picked by cigar-chomping party bosses cutting back-room deals. It’s a good thing that conventions are no longer needed.

This year’s virtual conventions should demonstrate that conventions have become virtually unnecessary.  


 Walter Rubel can be reached at