ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Webcast Extra.
MS. IFILL: Hello, I’m Gwen Ifill, and welcome to the Washington Week Webcast Extra. I’m joined around the table by Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Jeanne Cummings of The Wall Street Journal, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, and Reid Wilson of The Hill.
Now that we’re on the other side of the nominating conventions, let’s talk a bit about the infrastructure of the events themselves. There are balloons and there are confetti – is confetti, and there are funny hats, but there’s a lot more happening under the surface. So which party managed just that part, the theatrics of the convention, Karen, in your opinion?
MS. TUMULTY: Oh, hands down the Democrats. And ironically enough, when Donald Trump had for months been promising a, quote/unquote, “showbiz” convention and that, you know, this was going to be a production unlike anything we’d ever seen, and by the end of this week he was saying, well, I didn’t really care about that stuff.
MS. IFILL: Anybody else?
MR. WILSON: I noticed the signs. The Democratic signs were better than the Republicans. The sort of vertical –
MS. IFILL: From where I was sitting, I could look down during the videos and see the signs being handed out. They had a very efficient operation that would just slide them into place, so when the lights came back up it was suddenly a sea of whoever was speaking – Joe, Michelle, you name it.
MR. BALZ: I thought the other – one of the other differences was the sequencing of speeches. I thought that, at the Republican Convention, in those prime-time hours things seemed out of – out of whack, I mean, that they – you know, they had Melania Trump’s speech on Monday night and then they had two more speeches afterwards, and that happened a couple of times.
MS. IFILL: It felt like she had someplace to go, and that’s why they let her off this early.
MR. BALZ: Yeah, whereas this – with the Democrats, they built – they built that prime-time hour effectively.
MS. CUMMINGS: I would just like to say, as a print journalist, I’d like to thank the Trump campaign for bringing their people out early, getting it done – (laughter) – so that we can then write. But no, I –
MS. IFILL: As a television journalist, let me say there were long musical interludes that I wasn’t happy about. (Laughter.)
MS. CUMMINGS: I agreed the Dems ran a better show, and they may have run a better show because they were afraid of what Trump was going to do. Because Trump can do – or, we assumed, could do – TV, and they had to be worried that he was indeed going to put on a very good show. But then we all forgot that Manafort hasn’t run a convention since 1976. So, you know, there is – there is something there that’s not in sync.
But the big – the other thing I noticed with the Democrats is that they saved the best for last. I mean, those last two hours of prime time, that was compelling television, not just good politics. And that’s – I’ve never seen anybody – any party do that that well.
MS. IFILL: That was the show.
MS. CUMMINGS: Yeah.
MS. IFILL: So my pick for best, most effective speech was Michelle Obama, who I think I’ve never heard give a bad speech, but there was something about her – the timing of her speech which grabbed all of the convention’s distraction over other things that had been going up until that moment and did a couple things. It reminded people of what will happen when the Obamas leave, Democrats – loyal Democrats who love the Obamas. And it also was emotional, I thought. What was your favorite?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, I think – yeah, I think it would just be hard to top her. And in fact, for the rest of the convention, the speakers as they would speak would say, well, and here I am following Michelle, you know? (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: Including anybody else, Joe Biden, or?
MR. BALZ: Well, I thought there were a number. I mean, I thought she gave a very effective speech, and the other thing she did – you know, hearkening back to the disruptions of that day – she changed – she changed that convention with her speech, because up to then the story was of problems with the DNC, problems with the Bernie people. And she put an emotional edge on it that moved it in the direction that the Clinton people desperately needed.
I thought President Obama’s speech may have been the most effective of the week because he did so much in it. And one of the things he did that I think was strategic and potentially very significant was they grabbed back, obviously, the idea that America is great. I mean, they tried to get that – you know, counter Trump on the idea that it isn’t. But they were doing it in the context of an America that is a diverse America, a changing America, a transforming America, an America that to some people is a little scary. They were trying to say this is a great country and here are the reasons why.
MS. CUMMINGS: My personal favorite was Joe Biden. No, I thought Biden gave the best speech of his life the last time he’s on the national stage. He’s given lots –
MS. IFILL: It was very – it grabbed me, too, yeah.
MS. CUMMINGS: He’s given lots of really good speeches. I mean, when Biden’s on his game, there are few that can touch him.
MS. IFILL: Malarkey!
MS. CUMMINGS: Malarkey, right. But the way he stopped the applause, spoke directly into that camera, so if you were sitting on the couch he was talking right at you. He had teleprompters around him, but we all know he views that as a benchmark of opportunity, not what he has to read. But he – and he was concise, though. He was brief, especially for Joe Biden brief, which I think made his messages much more powerful. And not so much in his validation of Hillary, which was fine – it wasn’t any better or worse than anyone else – but his indictment of Trump was very powerful.
MS. IFILL: Well, speaking of Trump, there’s one other thing we didn’t get to in the main program, and it’s this whole just he has a gift for distraction. He has a gift for stealing the limelight, which is what he set out to do a couple of times this week. But unintentionally, I think, when he looked in the camera once again and said, gee, Russia, you might really want to look at Hillary’s emails – which every foreign policy expert grabbed their heart as this – as a betrayal of what a president would do.
MR. WILSON: And Dan referenced the sort of sequencing of the Democratic speeches. One of the major things that changed after Donald Trump made those comments was that Leon Panetta tore up his speech and wrote a new one, questioning Donald Trump’s fitness for office. I should be beyond the point now where I’m surprised by the lack of decorum in this campaign, but several Democrats used the word “treason” this week, and in regards to Donald Trump. This is something new, I think, in the litany of misstatements or improper, impolitic statements that Trump has made.
MS. IFILL: You think it turns a corner where it actually will change? Because every time we think that’s true –
MR. WILSON: Yes, that’s true, but it also opened a Democratic door to really hammer home the question of whether or not this person is fit to be in office. Hillary Clinton had a – had a – the standout line in her speech, to me, was if this is somebody who can be rattled by a tweet, do we want them to have access to nuclear weapons. This is a new line of attack that is really going to, I think, pay dividends for Democrats in the long run.
MR. BALZ: He thrives on chaos. And whether by design or by accident, he is a strategic disruptor. And I think part of that was that. But the other is he hates not to be in the limelight. And so this was the Democrats’ week, and he found a way to put himself right in the middle of it.
MS. TUMULTY: Substantively, too, it comes 180 degrees from 2012, when Mitt Romney was identifying Russia as the greatest strategic threat and being mocked by President Obama, saying, you know, the ’80s want their foreign policy back. Well, it turns out Mitt Romney was pretty right about that, and Donald Trump has now completely given that ground away.
MS. IFILL: Well, thank you all very much. I know that you’re very tired, as am I, because this has been an amazing couple of weeks. But it’s not over, guys; it’s just beginning. For a deeper dive into this week’s history-making politics, go to the Washington Week homepage for a brief history of women in politics. You’ll learn things you did not know. That’s at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. And that’s it for the Washington Week Webcast Extra. We’ll see you next time.