After two weeks of speeches, scandals and parties partying, it’s time to digest just what we took from the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. There was no shortage of fireworks and fizzling from either side either week, but here is a collection of memorable and forgettable moments, lines and people. In no particular order — other than the first one, maybe:
10 to Remember
Khizr Khan: The immigrant Muslim father of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in combat mesmerized the DNC for more than six minutes. His eloquence and gesturing poignancy/anger was capped by perhaps the single most memorable 30 seconds of either week: “Donald Trump, you’re asking Americans to trust you with your future,” Khan said with his silent wife at his side. “Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution?” Khan then reached into his pocket and produced a small book and shook it. “I will gladly lend you my copy.” Gotta believe a thrill ran up Chris Matthews’ leg right then. And then there was Fox News cutting away during Khan speech…
Barack and Michelle Obama: The first couple delivered passionate, invigorating, memorable speeches that promoted the ticket, stoked American pride and delivered elbows to Donald Trump’s ribs, though the First Lady never mentioned him by name.
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic”: The Dems’ opening number was a dirge-slow, gospel-fired take on the Civil War-era standard. Hauntingly delivered by Philadelphia’s Mother Bethel AME Church Choir, it fairly oozed through the hall and TV speakers around the country. The GOP’s opening number was “America the Beautiful,” belted out by an adorable 6-year-old. Advantage: Democrats.
Ted Cruz’s public political suicide: Or was it? The Tea Partier and GOP runner-up’s feud with Trump was very public and very personal, so no one really knew what to expect during speech on Night 3. Would he toe the party line? Smudge it with his shiny, heeled boot? (Oh wait, that was Marco Rubio.) Obliterate it with a sharp stick? Cruz summed up the previous year on the campaign trail with three simple words: “Vote your conscience.” The line drew the kinds of boos usually reserved for Taylor Swift crashing a Phish concert.
Bernie Sanders gets emotional: He sat stone-faced as Hillary Clinton thanked him during her acceptance speech, but things were different during the roll call a couple of days earlier. The generally unflappable disruptor was moved to tears as his older brother Larry cast his vote. In a shaky voice, he memorialized their parents and said they would be “immensely proud” of the Vermont senator. It was the DNC equivalent of watching an 8-year-old at a ballgame being surprised by her dad who had been deployed in Afghanistan for a year.
Sarah Silverman busts Bernie or Bust: Speaking of Sanders … the comic and actress was on the DNC stage with Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, a Saturday Night Live alum, when they were told to stretch as the stage was set for Paul Simon’s performance. A vehement Sanders backer-turned-Clinton supporter, she tried to be a one-woman party unifier by looking out at the Bernie or Busters and saying, “You’re being ridiculous.” (By the way, why did Simon sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” rather than, say, “America,” which was used in a Sanders campaign ad? At least he could have buried the hatchet with Art Garfunkel long enough for the latter to deliver his most famous vocal, rather than having Simon kinda wing it. That moment might have handed Clinton the key to the Oval Office.)
Trump’s entrance: Backlit like a pop diva and deploying a Nixoneque thumbs-up, the nominee-in-waiting delighted the crowd before uttering a word. Arriving onstage to introduce his wife, it was a terrific moment for both his most ardent backers and virulent haters. Which made it perfect. We would have gone with “Sirius” — the Alan Parsons Project’s ubiquitous “Eye in the Sky” intro — over Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” though.
Tim Kaine’s Trump impersonation: No, he wasn’t exactly Rich Little out there, but his takedown was tonic for the nonfans who had to sit through the GOP candidate’s never-ending stump speeches for a year-plus – most of which were shown in full on CNN. Kaine eviscerated Trump over the latter’s annoying habit of starting and/or ending every sentence with “Believe me.” It probably got more laughs in two minutes than Kaine has drawn in his political career.
Hillary Clinton goes nuclear on Trump: She’s never been a fiery orator like her husband – or the Obamas – so her hourlong speech went heavy on sloganism. Of the many attempts at hashtag-worthy moments, one stood way out: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” It would make for a helluva bumper sticker – if anyone in the middle class could afford a car big enough to hold it.
That Obama-Clinton hug: Another love-it-or-hate-it moment, depending on which side you ask. But the image of those once-bitter rivals embracing after the sitting president said he was ready to “pass the baton” to his party’s nominee was unforgettable.
10 to Forget
Nancy Pelosi: How is it that the Speaker of the House can’t speak in public? Forget what she said, if anyone even remembers, we’re surprised Donald Trump didn’t tag her with a nickname like Fumblin’ Nancy.™
Melania Trump: Yes, we’ll remember the plagiarism thing – although Fox News never mentioned it during its coverage that night, choosing instead to re-air the speech in its entirely. But, content aside, the media’s overuse of the word “poise” to describe her stage time was disingenuous. And the Slovenia native’s sloth-pace delivery made Hillary Clinton sound like the fast-talker from those old FedEx ads.
The GOP’s covers band: Where do we start? Butchering the Beatles? Making Rush’s “Limelight” sound like a Creed outtake? Somewhere a newlywed couple is high-fiving over their luck that these guys were booked already.
Andrew Cuomo’s speech: Cadence, Governor, cadence. Change it up a little. (Shudder.)
Bill O’Reilly’s history lesson: Did he really fact-check Michelle Obama’s line about waking up “in a house built by slaves” by countering with, “Slaves that worked there were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government”? Oh really, O’ Reilly? Seems having an extra bite or two to eat and possibly a cholera-free mat makes up for, you know, being forced to work for no pay.
Democratic delegates as lemmings: Clinton’s acceptance speech was peppered with more catchphrases than a late-‘70s sitcom, and every time she tossed one off – especially if it had three words – the crowd felt compelled to shout it back for 20 seconds. It made one pine for the good ol’ days of more memorable chants like “Lock her up!”
Offstage scandal: And not the ABC show whose POTUS appeared twice at the Dem gathering. Fox News was forced to deal with (or ignore) with its founder being ousted during Convention Week in the wake of multiple sexual-harassment allegations, while the Democrats bounced their party chairwoman hours before its confab launched. Later the Dems tried to deflect their hacking scandal by blaming it on Vladimir Putin; meanwhile, he and Trump were said to be vacationing together in Ukraine. (OK, made that one up.)
“What the World Needs Now Is Love”: The lyrics still resonate and the singing was fine. But man, it was distracting to the point of annoyance to watch the performers toss off one line then struggle to hand off the microphone like they were playing Hot Potato. Maybe the Wiggles could have pulled it off.
Trump’s brood: Every parent is proud of their kids; we get that. But giving them primetime slots on all four nights of your convention (and your current wife too)? None even has a reality show — though that’s likely to change. Whether it was megalomaniacal nepotism or the sheer dearth of heavy hitters willing to speak at a convention that nominated this candidate, it smacked of desperation. And ick.
The dearth of American flags on the Dems’ stage: We don’t expect it to look like Uncle Sam hurled up there, but the Donkey team’s brass knows that Republicans think Democrats are about as patriotic as Benedict Arnold. The Fourth of July bunting around the arena was cool, but waiting until the last day to get Old Glory on your stage gave the GOP base some red-white-and-blue meat to bolster their case.
Dominic Patten and Lisa de Moraes contributed to this piece.