Donald & Hillary: My trips to the conventions

The balloon drop at the RNC

The balloon drop at the RNC

First up, I went to see Donald Trump in Cleveland. Beth and I got last minute credentials for the final evening of the Republican National Committee's Convention and decided to make the trip. Wednesday night I left Paducah late hoping to arrive at Beth's house in Cincinnati by 9pm and then wake up early to drive the rest of the way to Cleveland.

The universe had other plans and I was waylaid by a nail in my tire in Elizabethtown. I didn't arrive at Beth's house until almost midnight.  

Early the next morning, we set out for Cleveland and got to the Quicken Loans Arena a little after lunch. We were a little underwhelmed by the crowds. We saw our fair share of vendors hocking every offensive Hillary Clinton pin your heart could desire and a few random protestors but no raucous marches or seething masses. 

The line of police officers at the RNC

The line of police officers at the RNC

The convention didn't gavel in until 7:30pm so we spent most of the checking out the media tent and marketplace and interviewing some delegates. We left the area for dinner and when we came back, we had to walk through a football field's worth of police officers shoulder to shoulder. It was intense and a little disturbing. It is the most vivid memory I have from the RNC and we captured it on Facebook Live. 

Once the session began, there were fourteen speakers from CEOs to celebrities to Ivanka and Donald Trump. (I wouldn't realize how out of the ordinary that was until we go to the DNC). Ivanka did a good job, although I didn't particularly believe her assertions that her father was really going to stick up for women. 

We had gotten an advance copy of Donald Trump's speech that had been released to the press and Beth and I both were shocked by the dark and foreboding overall tone. I figured at the time that was because he was incapable of sticking to the script and that they at least wanted the message out there. From where we sat, we could see the prompter though and he only went off and ad-libbed a couple of times.

I won't get in to my thoughts on the speech itself, which I found bizarre and threatening. What I found most interesting were the reactions of the crowd. They couldn't quite get their footing. Half the crowd would stand and cheer at one point and the other half would stand and cheer at another. It was very interesting to watch as a person who has gone to party events and knows how partisans react when all the same page.

This crowd was decidedly not on the same page - unless that page was hating Hillary Clinton which always got the loudest and most consistent reaction.

The speech was long and we drove through the night to get back to Cincinnati. I got into bed at 5am and woke up three hours later to drive back to Paducah. I was completely exhausted so it took me a couple of days to process what we saw. 

Mainly, I left realizing that the GOP has desperately lost its way. Beyond the fact that the crowd was much smaller, I just kept looking around thinking "This isn't conservatism." The party I saw at that convention doesn't represent the smart, thoughtful, gracious conservatives I interact with every day in my hometown and it certainly doesn't represent my amazing co-host on Pantsuit Politics. 

If conventions are a four day commercial for a political party and its candidate, then I wasn't buying what they were selling.

By the next week, I was more than ready to head to Philadelphia.

Now, in fairness, we spent three whole days at the Democratic National Convention. Also, because of my connections from my DC days, there were concerts and fun meals and we even had time to try floating (a post for another time!). However, once we'd experienced a few days of the DNC we quickly realized how odd the RNC really was.

First, trending twitter hashtags aside (seriously, #showmeyourcrowd people you are wearing me out!) there were easily a third more people at the DNC if not more. We regularly found ourselves in a crush of people. Every single night people perched on stairs because there were no seats. By the final night, people were lining the hallways desperate for a seat.

There were empty seats the final night of the RNC - not a ton but there were.

Second, the programs were VASTLY different. The DNC gaveled in every night at 4:30pm - a full three hours before the RNC. There were SIXTY-FOUR speakers the final night of the DNC.

64 v. 14

There was your fair share of elected officials and celebrities but there were A LOT of everyday Americans sharing everyday stories of how a certain issue had affected them or how Hillary Clinton had helped them in their time of need. Perhaps most striking were the victims of gun violence who stated plainly they didn't want to be up there talking but that this is how they chose to honor the memory of their loved ones.

The balloon drop at the DNC

The balloon drop at the DNC

It was powerful stuff. If we weren't crying over an emotional story, we were having a love fest. This was the other huge difference between the two events. The RNC was only unified in what they were against - immigration, trade, terrorism, crime, Hillary. Whereas at the DNC, there was much more focus on what the party stood FOR - equality, diversity, the middle class.

The night Obama spoke - which felt like the most intense going away party in history - we literally held hands and sang "What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love." There were consistent protests from a small contingent of Bernie or Bust people every night but the crowd usually chanted over them and I never saw any physical altercations.

Lastly, the sheer event production at the DNC was leaps and bounds above the RNC. The band was better at moving the (very long) program along. Every night had its own narratives that the speakers built on and it all built to the final evening. The video content was well-produced and there was a lot of it. 

And THE SIGNS. Lord, the signs.

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For every primetime speaker, arena volunteers would pass out signs themed to them or their speech. Obama signs for Obama. Joe signs for Joe Biden. And not just one sign - MULTIPLE signs per speech. It got to the point where I would have a pile in my lap. If I heard an applicable catchphrase, I would literally hold up my finger and say "Hold on! I have a sign for that!" as I desperately flipped through my stack.

There were no signs at the RNC.

That might sound silly but not only do the signs make an impact on television. They are a fantastic souvenir for your party faithful's filling the arena. So, not having them speaks volumes to the event preparation and forethought. Now, there was a card STUNT at the end that didn't go smoothly but hey you can't win them all. 

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As most of you know, Hillary Clinton gave her acceptance speech on July 28th, my 35th birthday. I sat behind her in 2008 when she gave her concession speech so to be in the crowd the night she finally shattered that glass ceiling was an incredibly powerful moment for me - one that is still incredibly difficult for me to put into words.

Hillary Clinton has been an essential part of my entire political life. She was the First Lady when I first became aware of politicals - largely a bystander like myself. She ran for Senate as I was entering college and pushing my own political beliefs farther. She ran for president and my first job out of law school was working for her campaign.

And now here we are again - she's become the first female nominee of a major political party and I'm running for office myself. On May 17th, I filled in a box next to her name then moved down the ballot and filled in the box next to my own. I'll do it again on November 8th. 

I wasn't sure I would live to see that moment. I certainly wasn't sure it would ever be her. I wasn't sure I would ever run either. 

To get to attend both party conventions was an amazing experience, but to be in that room with her on that day wasn't just historical - it was life affirming.