first presidents faced little opposition H u m a n i t i e s
Why do we have party conventions? When the nation was founded the first presidents faced little opposition so there were no nominating conventions. During the nineteenth century, both parties at the time (the Whigs and the Democrats) began holding conventions where party delegates would choose the party’s candidate for President. During the twentieth century, party conventions became infamous for the back rooms and smoke-filled bars where party leaders would broker the deal of who would represent the party and what supporters would get in return. This began to change after the Democratic Convention of 1968. While anti-war protestors were arrested outside, party delegates ignored primary results to nominate a candidate who supported the Vietnam war. This led both political parties to mostly end this kind of “brokering” and choose a candidate based on the results of primaries and caucuses.
Since the 1960s, the most dramatic conventions were held in 1976 and 1980, as Republican and Democratic challengers for the nominations attempted to challenge the results of the primary and change the party’s nominee. Although both Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy were unsuccessful, their convention speeches pushed their parties in new directions. You can read more background and see their speeches in Globalyceum, in the “Conventions: Pageants or Political Dramas?”
This year, the party conventions have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. There was no convention hall full of cheering delegates, politicians were limited to shorter speeches, and there was a general “sponsored by Zoom” feeling to the events. So, is there still a need for political conventions if the outcome is pretty much decided before the crowds gather (or log on)? In your discussion post for this week, consider the history and the purpose of political conventions.
Some ideas to consider:
- Did you watch any of the convention proceedings? Why or why not?
- Do you see similarities or differences between the party convention of 1980 and 2020 for the Democrats? Was the party more united or divided than in 1980?
- In 1976, Ronald Reagan’s speech heralded the ascendency of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, a movement that has dominated the party in the intervening years. Did the Republican convention in 2020 see a similar tension between moderate and conservative Republicans?
- Do you think conventions make a difference?
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