THESE are not the days for conventional political conventions, as anyone who saw the Democratic event will agree. Still, what are the chances that this week’s Republican get-together will end with Donald Trump hearing the words “you’re rehired”?

The New York Times reported yesterday that the US President has hired two producers from The Apprentice to run the bash. The television show that propelled Mr Trump from minor New York celebrity to coast to coast recognition famously ends with losing candidates being told “you’re fired”, and the winner “you’re hired”. Given the President is running for a second time, some variation on a theme would be permissible.

The Republican convention, like the Democrats’ gathering, will be like nothing seen before. Such are the Covid-19 times. Stripped back to basics, the Democrats’ virtual event took some getting used to. Gone was the sales conference meets Christmas party atmosphere of old, complete with pop music and balloons. Even the firework display looked as if it was trying hard to be modest.

A stellar line up of speakers, led by Michelle Obama, and slick production (the Democrats hired Ricky Kirshner, the maestro behind the Super Bowl half-time show), still made it a television event that more than 20 million Americans watched each night. Joe Biden’s speech was well received, even if he did not receive a big bump in the polls, and another $70 million was added to the party’s coffers. Job done, everyone happy.

Will the Republicans be saying the same come Thursday night? Whatever happens, the event is not the one the party wanted. Organisers tried to get as close to the convention norm as possible, but that plan was scrapped as the death toll from Covid-19 continued to soar.

Instead, there will be a mix of in-person events, with an audience in Washington of no more than 50 people, and speeches from the key players at various locations.

On Thursday the President will accept the nomination at the White House, defying critics who say the residence should not be used for party political purposes. The First Lady, Melania Trump, will take to the podium in the White House rose garden tomorrow, hoping to follow the success of Jill Biden, who filmed a video in the school in which she once taught.

Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to Mr Trump, has promised a move away from what she called the “dour and sour” mood of the Democratic National Convention. There has already been controversy over the guest spot given to lawyers Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the couple from St Louis who were pictured outside their mansion pointing guns at Black Lives Matters protesters in June.

Mr Trump is expected to speak every night, and if his recent White House press conferences are any guide, viewers should expect the unexpected. Not given to delivering tightly scripted addresses, the President could find himself wandering far off topic. Any over-running will not go down well with television networks and viewers waiting for their shows to start.

What a change it will be for a candidate who is at his happiest when he is speaking to his base in some vast auditorium. Gone will be the glory days of 2016 when packed rallies cheered his every word and a penned press could be held up for the crowd’s ridicule. How much atmosphere can even he generate before an audience of 50 people? His team need to avoid at all costs repeating the flop that was the Tulsa rally, when a paltry 6,200 people turned up and the atmosphere fell flat.

Come the fireworks display over the White House lawn on Thursday certain things should be clearer. As with the Democrats, the party’s general direction of travel will be apparent. The Democrats went for the centre ground, going heavy on the personal – Mr Biden’s steadiness, decency, inclusiveness – and light on policy. It was the most positive campaign launch since Barack Obama’s 2008 run.

It would be the mother and father of all convention surprises if the Republicans followed suit. Mr Trump has been trying out various lines for size, accusing Mr Biden and his Veep nominee Kamala Harris of being prisoners of the left. A heavy emphasis on law and order and protecting the suburbs is expected. But how personal can he be in attacking his opponents? This is not 2016 when he questioned the integrity of Hillary Clinton, and encouraged his supporters to do the same. Voters may accept that from a candidate, but not a President.

Perhaps the best the Republicans can expect from their unconventional convention is to get through it without any major gaffes. They can then start campaigning proper where it matters, on the ground. With most voters not turning their attention to the election until a couple of weeks before polling day, the conventions had already lost much of their impact. It still matters to get it right, though.

Over to you, producer-in-chief Trump.


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