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How effective were the DNC and RNC?

With the end of the DNC and RNC, a new stage in the presidential election is set to begin. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan to recap the conventions and their effects on the campaigns for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    With the Republican and Democratic conventions now behind us, tradition has it that presidential candidates try to capitalize on the momentum the four-day events are supposed to provide. But this campaign season is unlike any other, as both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton try to overcome historically low approval ratings and trust issues.

    Here to discuss the effectiveness and relevance of the conventions is "NewsHour Weekend" special correspondent Jeff Greenfield, who reported from both Cleveland and Philadelphia over the last two weeks.

    Could not have been a more stark choice in not just the content but even the of what these two weeks were.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD, NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT:

    Night and day. The Republican convention was hit by stumbles — Melania's speech turned out to have been borrowed from Michelle's. Joni Ernst, the freshman senator from Iowa, who they really wanted showcased, was pushed out of prime-time by a kind of over-the-top presentation by a retired general. Then, Ted Cruz shows up and doesn't endorse.

    By contrast, the Democratic convention was so structured that when a speaker used a phrases like, "stronger together," hundreds of signs with that exact phrase by some amazing coincidence popped up. And they structured every night to make a point, whether it was about Hillary, the unacceptability of Donald Trump. And then finally and perhaps most remarkably, taking a page from Reagan's book, the flags, American exceptionalism, "USA! USA!"

    If you had transported me 30 years into the future from when I first started covering this, I would have said, "Oh, that's a Republican convention."

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Let's talk about the messages. It seems both candidates have a tough time convincing people to like them, so they really go out of their way to say, "Well, I'm so much better than the other person."

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    That is definitely the major theme with both campaigns. "You don't like me, check out the other person."

    In the Republican case, the governing Republicans, like Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader; Paul Ryan, the speaker, were at pains to say, "OK, he's not really one of us, but it doesn't matter. We have an agenda and he'll go along with it." Now, whether that's whistling in the dark we might or might not find out.

    The Democratic message was, apart from this is not left and right, this is a reasonable person versus an unreasonable one, and also trying to say about Hillary, OK, she's not the warmest person in the world. And I thought her acceptance speech, both for good and ill, I can't do poetry. I can't reveal myself. When I try to reach for flowery rhetoric it turns out to be rotary club luncheon stuff, but when I talk plainly and simply, either about what I've done or what's wrong with Trump, that's when her message, I think, just measured by potential effectiveness, was greater.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know, there was a moment where I think it was Shonda Rhimes who made this 12-minute biopic video of her, there were moments when she seemed calm and relaxed and normal sitting at a kitchen table, but by the time she got in front of the teleprompters, it was kind of back to someone else.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    It is not gender-based, because Cory Booker made the same mistake. It's like they don't been microphones, that carry sound. When Hillary Clinton, as she did with the point about Donald Trump, "Donald Trump says he knows more about ISIS than generals. No, Donald, you don't." That is so much more effective than attempting to ratchet up the rhetoric. And I think that's a point I'm sure her people have been telling her about this forever. And it may be one of the things they just have to live with.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know, in the end, in this cycle especially, do these events matter? Because we think about the theater and the stagecraft and the orchestration — did we build up to a crescendo? Most people at home might not even watch these.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    And the evidence of that is that for all of the stumbles of the Republican convention, Donald Trump got a reasonable bounce out of it, you know? He got — depending on what poll, four, five, six points.

    But the point you make is more significant that this may be a year when the laws of political gravity are in temporary suspension. If you look at how Donald Trump went to the nomination, how many point along the way did people say, "Well, he can't survive that." And that ought to be a guidepost to the fact that we simply are not sure what we are watching now.

    And so, we come out of the conventions, just as you say, I know what the conventional wisdom will be, but we have 100 days between now and election day, I wouldn't bet a plug nickel on knowing what's going to happen.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, I won't take that bet. Jeff Greenfield, thanks for joining us.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Pleasure.

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