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The Utility Off Conventions

June 2024
1min read

I would add only one observation to Terry Golway’s delightful and persuasive discussion of the continuing importance of party nominating conventions in this primary-driven, media-saturated era (“The Conventional Wisdom: Why It’s Wrong,” July/August issue). The sole important function of modern conventions that Golway neglects is their role in providing the nominees with the opportunity to unify their parties prior to the general election campaign.

The introduction of television coverage and the proliferation of primaries have conspired to transform conventions into forums in which intra-party struggles are played out before a live viewing audience. By taking the power to choose the nominees away from “party insiders” and placing it in the hands of voters, the parties have encouraged hard-fought, frequently divisive campaigns for the nominations. Television coverage of the conventions has provided the candidates vanquished during the primary season with leverage to extract concessions from the presumptive nominee, either by enticing the delegates they won in the primaries to mount disruptive demonstrations or by displays of personal pique.

Barry Goldwater, Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter, and Michael Dukakis could testify to the importance of nominees using the conventions to salve the wounds of erstwhile foes and lure them into their camps.

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