Last week, I had the good fortune to attend the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Needless to say, it was quite the experience. I saw and learned A LOT.
While the DNC is all about politics, and quite a bit about policy, I want to reflect on what I learned regarding process. Here are a few key takeaways—in no particular order–that I took away from my time at the DNC.
If you have any questions about anything else from the week, ask them in the comments or on Twitter—I’ll be happy to answer them.
Who’s Telling The Story?
I watched the RNC on television, I had a front row seat for the DNC (well, not exactly front row, but you know what I mean). From where I sat, the RNC was a full-on sh*t show compared to the DNC.
- The speakers were low caliber (hard to compare Scott Baio and that guy from Duck Dynasty to a past POTUS, a current POTUS, a VPOTUS, a FLOTUS, numerous high-profile Senators, the list goes on and on).
- The Republicans gave a very coveted time-slot to a rival they knew wasn’t going to endorse their nominee (Senator Ted Cruz). When he didn’t endorse, Trump staff riled up the audience and got them to boo. The crowd was so contentious, Cruz’s wife had to be escorted out for her own safety.
- The lights on stage and around the arena flickered off during numerous speakers on stage at the RNC.
- The Donald brought out a lot of “character witnesses,” including most of his children, and not one had a nice anecdote to share about their father/friend. They talked about his success, but not about his person.
- There was one prominent plagiarism scandal (Melania) and one minor one (Donald, Jr.).
Now to be fair, the DNC had its fair share of controversies.
- Their party chair and the event host had to resign her position (more on this to follow).
- There were intense displays of disunity and frustration at an event whose theme was literally “Stronger Together.”
But none of the DNC chaos ever made it on to stage. You could see the protestors in the audience and you could hear them chanting (and occasionally booing), but as far as the regularly scheduled program: it was a well-oiled machine.
And yet, I saw countless stories talking about how much better an event the RNC was, when compared to the DNC.
At first glance, I couldn’t understand it. Had the press been watching a different set of conventions that me?
The answer: they were watching the same events, but they were experiencing them much differently.
Unless you watched the conventions yourself, what you know about them is most likely based on how the press chose to report them. The press experience at the RNC was FAR superior to the press experience at the DNC. I know this from reading numerous reports as well as several conversations with reporters. The RNC understood the importance of pampering the press — the DNC seemed to approach them as an oversight. The reporting conveyed those differing opinions.
The Takeaway: If you don’t treat the press well, the story of the day will not be good.
Don’t Needlessly Extend Your Controversy
Debbie Wasserman Schultz was the chairperson of the DNC. The day before the gavel was set to bring the convention to order, Wikileaks released numerous emails, purportedly hacked from the party’s servers by Russia, showing that one particular conspiracy theory—that the party had been tipping the scales in favor of Clinton over Sanders throughout the primaries—had in fact not be speculative, but real.
DWS was party chairwomen, and as such, much of the blame and the vitriol fell on her. The host of the week was suddenly person non grata within the party. So what did she do? She flailed.
Anyone paying attention knew that she should not take the stage at the convention, and that was the ultimate outcome. But by my count, it took four pivots (FOUR!) in about 24 hours to get her there.
First she said she would gavel the convention in and out, but not speak. Then, she was going to gavel in and out, speak briefly, and then resign immediately following the convention. Then she was set to speak, but not gavel. And ultimately, she did none of the above.
Which was what obviously had to happen. And yet she allowed the hours immediately preceding the convention to be all about her, the controversy, and the process.
Key Takeaway: Damage control is sometimes necessary, but don’t publicly air your thoughts throughout the process.
Don’t Pivot to Your Weakness
Congressman Ron Kind came and spoke to the Wisconsin delegation over breakfast one morning. He was immediately met with protestors, challenging his stance on the TPP (as guaranteed, this point is NOT about policy!). He diffused the protestors by essentially appealing to their Midwestern niceness. He asked them to be respectful, and offered to speak with them in the hallway following his remarks. A New York or Florida delegation might have eaten him alive simply for offering to speak about something like this offline, but these were Wisconsinites. They acquiesced.
Then a few minutes into his speech: he brought up trade (the TPP is a trade agreement). The protestors were willing to sit by while he spoke about party unity and how hot Philadelphia was or whatever, but he pretty much threw their silence back in the face. And they were having none of it.
The protests began again, with fresh blood.
Key Takeaway: Don’t bring up a controversy, unless you are prepared to talk about it.
It Just Takes One Or Two
If you followed coverage of the DNC at all, you probably saw the Wisconsin delegate who taped her mouth shut, declaring herself “silenced.” If 99 people are happy (not that this was the case here at all, but still), the press will seek out the one who is not.
The Kind breakfast (discussed above) got a lot of Wisconsin press, and it was not because of his remarks, but because of the protests that erupted during it.
There were close to 200 people in the room when Kind spoke. There were MAYBE five vocal protestors. But those five people owned the story.
Key Takeaway: Anyone can own a news cycle, if they are organized and ready to become the story.
Is There A Such Thing As Bad Press?
We won’t really know the answer to this question until November, but if anyone understands how to own a news cycle, it’s clearly Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, day three of the convention, Trump went on TV and literally invited Russia (the purported hackers of the DNC who started the DWS controversy) to try and find Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 missing e-mails. He promised that the press would appreciate it.
He was openly colluding with a foreign government, and literally asking them to help sway a presidential election. To say that this was unprecedented would be an understatement.
The controversy swelled and it quickly became the story of the day.
Granted the story was negative for Trump, with even the conservative press mostly saying it was an insane thing for him to have said.
Yet on a day when the country should have been talking about President Bill Clinton’s remarks from the night before, and the speeches coming later that evening from President Obama, Vice President Biden and Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine, all anyone could talk about was Trump.
Key Takeaway: The American people love controversy and drama and Trump is the master of both.
Emotion Trumps Articulation
There have been so many stories written about Kazir Khan, the father of the Gold Star soldier who asked Trump if he had even read the constitution, that I feel weird wading into the territory. But I’ll continue limiting myself to the non-political and non-policy angle of the story.
Kazir speaks English as a second language. He purportedly had no speech on the teleprompter, he simply got up there and spoke. And yet his speech was arguably the most talked about of the entire convention.
Compare his speech those of Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, FLOTUS, VPOTUS, two POTUS, HRC herself and so many others. Khan is far from the wordsmith of any of the aforementioned, yet everyone listening to his speech felt his words in a way that is rare, and frankly special.
Key takeaway: Preparation is good, soaring rhetoric is great, but both pale in comparison to truly believing in your story.
It’s Good To Have Friends
The location of the convention was far outside of town, surrounded only by other stadiums (Philadelphia has football/baseball/basketball venues all in one MASSIVE parking lot), with no hotels nearby.
There were several ways to get to and from the convention everyday, but one of the easiest: Uber.
If you wanted a car to take you as close as possible to the event, you couldn’t take a Lyft or even a standard cab. You had to take an Uber.
Uber and Philadelphia have a complicated relationship, as do many cities with this disruptive technology. And yet a cab could not get you nearly as close to the DNC as an Uber.
David Plouffe, a former campaign manager for Barack Obama, is currently a full-time strategic advisor for the company. Do I know that Plouffe’s role at Uber directly helped create this relationship? No. But does it seem like they are interconnected.
Key takeaway: It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
Other’s Weakness + Your Strength = Power
While there were MANY powerful moments at the DNC, there was one in particular that really stayed with me.
Throughout the week, they showed these clips of Trump saying terrible things, billed as “Trump In His Own Words.”
One such clip showed Trump mocking a disabled reporter. They then showed him saying disparaging things about the reporter and others with disability. Then they showed the clip again.
As soon as the clip ended, a voice came over the loudspeaker, sounding not all that different than the one Trump had just been openly mocking. Anastasia Somoza was on stage, sitting in her wheelchair and speaking passionately about her relationship with HRC.
They hadn’t just gone out and found a young woman with disabilities to follow Trump’s disgusting moment from the campaign trail, Anastasia has had a relationship with Hillary for many years. She told stories of hearing from Hillary numerous times over the years when she was in darker moments in her life. They showed pictures of the two together dating back to Anastasia as a young girl.
Anastasia was articulate, passionate and proud of her relationship with Hillary. It was a touching moment at the convention.
But it wasn’t her speech that stood out per se (at least not for me). Rather it was the juxtaposition of Trump’s mocking with Anastasia’s grace.
Key takeaway: Don’t just highlight your adversary’s weaknesses. Highlight your own strengths in comparison.
So, those are just a few of my non-political, non-policy takeaways from the DNC. I also saw lots of great speeches, had tons of celebrity sightings, drafted a tweet that made it on to the jumbo-tron and so much more. But these were some thoughts I wanted to share with you.
As I said, ask any questions in the comments or via Twitter and I’ll be happy to answer them. Thanks for reading.