The Republican National Convention (RNC) gets underway today and, putting politics aside for the moment, the Democrats’ convention last week has given the Grand Old Party a tough act to follow. It was the first to be staged entirely virtually and the absence of the usual roaring crowds, balloon drops and flurries of ticker tape served the Democrats well. It meant that the gravity of every word uttered during addresses by the likes of the Obamas, the Clintons – and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris themselves – hung in the air and was allowed to speak for itself.
Secondly it enabled unsung characters, who represented the US in all its diversity, to shine through. The brothers of George Floyd, for instance, who called for racial justice; or the 13-year-old old boy who was given advice on how to overcome his stutter by Joe Biden in New Hampshire earlier this year; or the official delegation from Rhode Island, who took their moment in the spotlight to showcase the simple joys of a heaped plate of deep-fried calamari.
Many details of the Republican National Convention were not released until the last minute. We know that Donald Trump will accept his party’s nomination at the White House on Thursday and that some past heavyweights – George W Bush and Mitt Romney – will be staying away. The lesser-known characters on stage reportedly include heroes in conservative circles who stood up for “law and order”; a St Louis couple who brandished guns in front of their homes as demonstrators marched by; a Parkland, Florida, school-shooting victim’s father who stood up for gun rights. “My guess is [that] you’re going to hear a lot of anger at the Republican National Convention,” says Linda Chavez, a former White House official who served under Ronald Reagan. “They’re going to flip the tables and be more in the mode of a challenger than an incumbent.” The competing visions shaping up from the two parties ahead of November’s vote could not be starker.