Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the pomp and irrelevance of political conventions are moving online.
Democrats confirmed last week they will have no in-person events for their convention this month. Republicans plan to have limited in-person functions, and Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst suggested last week that President Donald Trump should hold a nomination acceptance event in Des Moines. The Libertarian Party’s online convention this month was a total disaster, perhaps offering a preview of the major party online conventions. Locally, Linn County Democrats plan to hold a virtual convention to nominate a replacement for outgoing county Supervisor Brent Olsen’s seat; Johnson County Republicans convened virtually this week to nominate for its Board of Supervisors race.
The purpose of a convention is to select a party nominee. And in the past this job has been accomplished with a lot of glad handing, bad chicken dinners, backroom dealing and breathless media coverage. The 1948 election was the first year that political conventions were televised and they made for boring TV — just a lot of men, standing around talking. But the conventions still draw media, who use the events as a peg to write about party platform and politicians, who use the events to grandstand.
The current political conventions, when they haven’t been completely bungled online, such as the Texas GOP convention, which the Texas Monthly called a “comic disaster,” have mostly just been prerecorded videos of speeches.
Permanently moving the wheeling and dealing of politics to the internet could either provide more transparency to the process or less — further moving everything underground and out of the gaze of in-person scrutiny.
But for now, we encourage any party to meet online. Online conventions in the year 2020 are optimal for safety, especially as COVID-19 is now the number three leading cause of death in America. And all political parties should set an example and stay online until a safe and effective vaccine exists.
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