In the weeks and months leading up to the RNC, Trump kept insisting that his RNC would be a different RNC—a Trump production. “It will be a convention unlike any we’ve ever seen. It will be substantive. It will be interesting. It will be different. … It’s not gonna be a ho-hum lineup of the typical politicians,” Trump told a radio host in June. He promised glitz and celebrities and no boring speeches. Instead, he delivered an endless parade of people no one has heard of. Besides Jon Voight, who narrated a video about Trump’s life, Scott Baio was arguably the biggest star to appear.
But who else is on the stage has rarely mattered when Trump is there—he is, as he has consistently reminded voters this year, a one-man ratings machine. He made an appearance on every night of the convention, seemingly to make that point. When the RNC faltered—when his wife read a speech containing a passage plagiarized from Michelle Obama, for example—he pointed at the ratings.
And then he got smoked by the DNC, which put on the star-studded convention that Trump promised. Alicia Keys, Meryl Streep, Eva Longoria, Elizabeth Banks, Katy Perry, Paul Simon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sarah Silverman, Lena Dunham, and America Ferrara all appeared. More people watched the DNC, which has led Trump to quickly distance himself from his own convention. When asked by The New York Times why his convention was so disorganized and lacked any star power, Trump said, “I didn’t produce our show—I just showed up for the final speech on Thursday.” He told the Hollywood Reporter, “I think we had, if you include my children and the great success that they had, I would say we had tremendous star power. But I wasn’t looking for star power, I was looking for policy.” Which is hilarious.
The biggest difference between the two conventions, however, wasn’t the star power, but the organization. The RNC had ostensible themes, but it rarely stuck to them, instead hitting the same note—Hillary Clinton should be jailed—again and again. The DNC, meanwhile, spent time building narratives about what the office of the presidency means, the state of the country today, and who Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are. The RNC was a high school talent show; the DNC was the Oscars.
The question, though, is how much that star power—and the Reagan-esque Morning in America narrative—will matter to voters. Convention bounces don’t mean much, but Trump put on an objectively whacky and low-rent convention and he got a huge one. We’ll find out next week if and how Hillary benefits from her convention.