Trump’s convention starts tomorrow. A few quick notes on what to expect, and the consequences.
1) Donald Trump will do things differently because, first and foremost, he is a showman. Will it matter? We don’t know. Social science is about finding patterns. Donald Trump breaks from all of our patterns. The phrase I keep using in public talks is that with Trump, we are “speculating outside the bounds of our data.” If we have no observations about Trump-like conventions from the past, then we have no direct empirical basis to predict their consequences.
2) The reason Trump is allowed to be unpredictable here is that conventions are low risk/low reward events. Short of a 1968-style riot, there is no reason to believe that there is much at stake, and 1968 is a special problem. The riots didn’t cost the Democrats the 1968 election. Rather, the Democrats were torn apart by the Vietnam War, resulting in a heated convention that deteriorated into riots under rules that were later changed, and the divisions that produced those conditions cost the Democrats the election.
On the other hand, remember 2008? Remember how excited Republicans were about the great job Sarah Palin did at the convention?
In other words, conventions don’t matter that much. They are low risk/low reward events. So, while Trump was constrained to pick Pence as his running mate by intra-party dynamics, as I have been writing repeatedly, his campaign can let Olive be Olive, I mean, let Trump be Trump at the convention because the risks are low.
3) Despite 1 and 2, it probably doesn’t matter. I fall back on my political science fundamentalism that elections essentially turn on fundamentals like the state of the economy. I remain primarily an adherent to the Alan Abramowitz “Time for a Change” model, based on GDP growth, presidential popularity, and the two-terms-and-you’re-out factor. With a tepidly growing economy, a slightly-net-positive Democratic president, and two Democratic wins in a row, Republicans should be a slight favorite to win, but Trump continues to underperform in the polls. HRC currently has a roughly 2.7 point lead on average over at RealClearPolitics. Would a highly entertaining and unusual convention change that? Perhaps in some hypothetical case, but not in Trump’s case. Consider the Rubiobot. Anybody sufficiently obsessed with politics to read this pretentious, little blog will get that joke, but most people wouldn’t because most people really have no clue who he is. Conventions introduce candidates, who are generally unknown to most of the public, to a wider audience. Trump, however, is already known to everyone. An unusual, and entertaining convention conveys no new information about Trump to anyone, because everyone already knows that Trump can put on a show, so what does it change?
Just please don’t burn down my city. I like it here.