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Why Republicans Are Better At Conventions

On balance, this week has been a success for the Obama campaign. Assuming he turns in a strong performance tonight, Obama will leave Denver with a unified party (thank you Hillary), with fewer gaps in his biography (Michelle), with voters reassured about his readiness (Bill) and more likely to see John McCain as Bush redux (John Kerry, Brian Schweitzer, and friends).  

But, to extend a point I raised last night, I don't think the definition of McCain has been sharp enough. Each speaker seemed to approach the task his/her own separate way (and sometimes not at all), leaving viewers with a kind of mish-mash of objections: too many houses, too unilateralist, too long in Washington, too close to right-wingers, too resistant to energy reform. The one person who distilled the objections into a single, pithy critique was Kerry, with his inspired "Senator McCain" versus "candidate McCain" riff. But I worry it'll get lost in the whirlwind.

Which brings me to my point: Had the Republicans stumbled onto such a worthy frame, their convention would have played it on a permanent loop. (I'm sure they'll do that anyway, with less inspired material.) Every no-name speaker would have repeated it, so that, even if you'd barely been paying attention, you'd be mouthing it unconsciously by the end of the week. 

What I think the Republicans get, and Democrats don't, is that there's incredible value in the B and C teams. Democrats take a look at the former mayor of Sioux Falls or the spouse of some combat veteran and think, in effect, "Whatever, let them have their three minutes of glory." Ditto for most governors and congresspeople. Republicans take a look at the same speaker and see an opportunity to reinforce the message of the day.*

There's no doubt in my mind that, had all these people been aping Kerry all week, McCain's maverick image would more or less be history by tomorrow. Instead, while this convention is a huge improvement over 2004, my hunch is that the maverick survives Denver (albeit more precariously than before).

*This clearly has something to do with the GOP's penchant for hierarchy. But you'd like to think the Dems could impose a little hierarchy for the purposes of a convention. 

--Noam Scheiber