Will COVID-19 reshape political conventions?

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Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage with former President Barack Obama at the conclusion of his speech during the 2016 Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Center on July 27, 2016 in Philadelphia.Xxx Rh12531 Jpg A Eln Usa Pa Photo credit: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Joe Biden says he might be nominated by a virtual convention. Donald Trump wants balloons, bunting and cheering supporters. It’s public health versus economic recovery in this year’s presidential campaign.  

KCRW’s Warren Olney sat down with Ron Brownstein, E.J. Dionne, and A.B. Stoddard to talk about the presidential campaigns, polls, and hydroxychloroquine. This interview has been abbreviated and edited for clarity.

Warren Olney: How are this year’s Democratic and Republican conventions going to sound and look different from the past? 

Ron Brownstein: “The maximum that's possible at the Democratic convention still seems to me below the minimum of what Trump might accept as a Republican in-person event in North Carolina. But recall how controversial this was in Charlotte to begin with. There are pressures now for the hospitality industry, restaurants, and everything else that has [sic] been hurting. ... so they would love this economic infusion. 

But if you're talking about tens of thousands of people— which is what polls say will happen— many of whom are just more resistant to any social distancing precautions, the prospect of having to clean up for that, and the implications for the health of your community, there is going [sic] to be some very difficult decisions and tough negotiations in the weeks ahead. 

The Republican National Committee is acting as though it's full speed ahead and saying that they're expecting 50,000 people to be there in person in just a few months. That’s just — wow!” 

Warren Olney: I have covered presidential politics for a long time, but the  announcement by Trump that he is taking hydroxychloroquine was one of the strangest ever to come out of the White House. Will it fly with voters? 

A.B. Stoddard: The president let us know in no uncertain terms he’s decided to take this medication as a preventative measure against COVID, though our own FDA and the government has told us that we should not use this in any way — unless we are in a trial or under the supervision of a physician in a hospital. 

It has been denounced as a preventative or a treatment for COVID as it can cause risky effects to the heart. But he said he took it because he's heard from a lot of people, and he said that's his evidence. 

I don't know that he's definitely taking it. It was very clear from his doctor's note that the doctor does not say he prescribed it or the president is on it. I do think that the president might have wanted to change the topic in the news away from an investigation into a secretary of state

What the polls show is that there is a huge drop in support among seniors. They're very scared for their health. Like my own mother, they don't feel that they can re-enter society until there's an abundance of testing, if not a vaccine. And he has lost them by 20 points in a six week period. If he doesn't get them back, his coalition cannot get him a second term in office.”

Warren Olney: E.J. Dionne, do you agree? 

E.J. Dionne:  “Yes, Donald Trump cannot win this election if he doesn't win white voters over the age of 65 by enormous margins. The president’s slowness in reacting to this and then his handling of it, his delegating everything out to the states has actually made this situation both on the health side and on the economic side worse. And when unemployment is at the rate that it is, the economy is not an asset to him anymore. In fact, it's a huge potential liability. 

Warren Olney: What about the role of Fox, which has taken the president's position again and again and again, in marked contrast to both CNN and MSNBC?

A.B. Stoddard: “Trump is very intent on keeping Fox in line on his message platform because he's trying to keep his voters focused off of what was a spectacular disaster, his response to this virus. I'm trying to think in history when this government has failed this country in a more profound way, but I cannot come up with a stronger example than this.”

E.J. Dionne: “The mainstream media really has a responsibility not to play the game that Trump wants them to play. There is no obligation to pass along falsehood. There is no obligation on the part of the mainstream media to pretend that there is such a thing as Obamagate. Trump’s counting on getting enough of this junk into the mainstream media that it creates enough confusion that some potentially Democratic voters stay away or people get this idea. You've got to distinguish between the signal and the noise with the Trump campaign. The noise will be the signal, and the media have to face up to that.”




Warren Olney


Andrea Brody