Consistent with much of the current presidential race, the 2020 national conventions for both major parties were starkly different from the conventions of past years. Thanks to an unorthodox incumbent, unresolved protests and an unrelenting pandemic, Democrats and Republicans provided programming that was less familiar to viewers.
The two conventions presented two dissonant visions of America and its future. One America plagued by police brutality, another plagued by rioting and looting.
The Democratic National Convention was held first. It was originally scheduled for July, but it was postponed until Aug. 17-20 and reformatted to accommodate COVID-19 concerns. The nomination was held at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, which served as the official headquarters, but most guests gave their speeches remotely from various locations. Both Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris gave their respective acceptance speeches from Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
The Republican National Convention was held a week later in Charlotte North Carolina on Monday Aug. 24, and at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington D.C. for the following days. Like the Democrats, Republicans had to delay their event. They had planned to host a more traditional convention with a live audience, but the North Carolina state government refused. They then planned to relocate to Jacksonville, Florida, but they ultimately decided to move back to Charlotte in a more limited manner, with only certain events featuring an audience. Most speakers, including President Trump and Vice President Pence, gave their speeches from the host cities.
The main theme for the Democrats was “Uniting America,” and their lineup of speakers illustrated that. The first night featured the socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and the conservative former governor of Ohio John Kasich, neither of whom are members of the Democratic party. Several of Biden’s primary opponents, including Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, spoke in support of the former Vice President.
Big names were brought out to excite viewers. Each night of the DNC featured a different celebrity emcee, including actress Eva Longoria and comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Major artists like Jennifer Hudson and Billie Eilish performed between segments.
Regular Americans were also given air time throughout the week. Several pre-recorded segments featured people directly affected by issues like immigration policy and the pandemic, including former Trump voters.
A woman named Kristin Urquiza spoke, condemning the president’s response to the pandemic after her father died from COVID-19. She said that her father told her that he had “felt betrayed by the likes of Donald Trump” after the president downplayed the severity of the virus.
Of the four living former presidents, the three Democrats spoke in support of Biden. President George W. Bush, the only Republican of the group, did not speak at his party’s convention. Neither did 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, as both have failed to give public support for Trump’s re-election.
In contrast with the Democrats’ message of unity, the RNC featured seven speakers named Trump. Urges to trust and remain loyal to the president dominated the Republicans’ rhetoric.
In an attempt to reach out to voters who haven’t traditionally voted Republican, several people of color spoke in support of the president and criticized his opponent. Retired athlete Herschel Walker and activist Alice Marie Johnson, as well as conservative politicians like Ben Carson and Senator Tim Scott were among Trump’s Black supporters.
Vernon Jones, a Georgia state representative and Democrat, said: “You may be wondering, ‘Why is a lifelong Democrat speaking at the Republican National Convention?’ That’s a fair question. Here’s your answer. The Democratic party does not want Black people to leave their mental plantation.”
Critics have pointed out that certain speakers may have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits certain federal employees from campaign activity. Although the president and vice president are exempt, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting United States Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, both of whom spoke at the event, are not.
Joe Biden echoed the Democrats’ theme of unity in his acceptance speech when he said: “But while I will be a Democratic candidate, I will be an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t support me as I will for those who did … This must be an American moment.”
The Democratic nominee was portrayed as a decent, empathetic man by his supporting speakers. In a segment featuring anecdotes from many of the other primary candidates, Senator Cory Booker said that after “having a go of it” during one of the debates, Biden used a commercial break to reassure the senator that he had “good ideas.”
“I feel like he’s giving me a pep talk and literally telling me how important it is, how really important it is that I’m on that stage,” Booker said.
Another of Biden’s former opponents, Senator Amy Klobuchar, said in the same segment, “Joe has my vote because he will bring decency and dignity back to the White House.”
Jill Biden, Ph.D., told stories of her husband’s personal life, highlighting the tragedies he’s endured and how that has helped him relate to voters. His opponent was often portrayed as unempathetic to further distinguish Biden’s character.
The DNC emphasized Biden’s role in the Obama administration. President Obama had an approval rating as high as 95% among Democrats during his presidency, a fact which gave him an edge over primary opponents who criticized the 44th president.
Barack Obama himself emphasized Biden’s role in his administration.
“For eight years Joe was the last one in the room whenever I faced a big decision,” Obama said.
In his acceptance speech, President Trump focused on his administration’s accomplishments like the withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and building “300 miles of border wall.”
The president was often portrayed throughout the RNC as reliable, and the defender against the Democrat’s vision for America.
On night one, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk spoke about Trump’s decision to run for the nomination in 2016 in dramatic terms.
“We may not have realized it at the time,” Kirk said, “but Trump is the bodyguard of Western civilization.”
Congressman Matt Gaetz echoed that same sentiment.
“We must fight to save America now or we may lose her forever,” Gaetz said.
Conservatives have been shown to be more motivated by threats than liberals which played to Trump’s strengths, as he portrays himself as the “law and order” candidate. The BLM protests were usually referred to as riots throughout the events, and Biden and Harris were condemned as radicals by the president.
President Trump concluded his speech by invoking American history. He urged citizens to have pride in their country and said that under his administration “we will prove worthy of this magnificent legacy.”
“Together we are unstoppable, together we are unbeatable, because together, we are the proud citizens of the United States of America,” Trump said.