With the Republican and Democratic National Conventions over, it's time to see what party had better speeches, sets, movies and stagecraft
The confetti is being swept away, all the balloons have popped, and the Democrats and Republicans have left their convention halls, fired up for a heated battle for the presidency this fall.
So with the Republican and Democratic conventions over, the question remains — who put on the better show?
To answer that, TheWrap turned its critical eye on the stagecraft behind the political gatherings. From the acceptance speeches to stage sets to biographical films, we take a look at which party provided more razzle and dazzle. Not from a policy perspective, but purely in terms of good television.
Given Hollywood’s importance as a major fundraising source, it’s not surprising that the Democratic Convention was overflowing with celebrities like John Leguizamo and Eva Longoria. But the Donkey Party wasn’t able to deliver an A-List surrogate on the level of prominent Obama supporters like Leonardo DiCaprio and Barbra Streisand. The biggest brush with movie star glamor came in the form of Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington, who took the podium to talk up the president.
In contrast, the Republican gathering may have come up short on the sizzle factor when it came to drawing lots of stars (Jon Voight, anyone?), but it did provide one unforgettable moment of celebrity endorsement. Clint Eastwood’s bizarre, rambling prime-time speech during which he held a one-sided debate with an empty chair may not have helped the Romney/Ryan ticket’s cause, but it’s the kind of convention moment that will be talked about for years.
Advantage: Republicans by a chair.
The Republicans skillfully humanized Gov. Mitt Romney with a 10-minute video that helped loosen up the often-wooden candidate by capturing moments of his family life. Moreover, by focusing on his involvement with Staples, a company Romney helped turn around during his time at Bain Capital, the filmmakers were able to make a case that America needs a CEO in chief. It wasn't exactly "The Man From Hope," the legendary convention video that helped introduce Bill Clinton to the American people, but as glitzy campaign bios go it was hard to find fault.
President Barack Obama's task was different. The American people already know his story (he's written two books about it, after all), so the film by documentarian Davis Guggenheim eschewed biography in favor of a recantation of the Obama administration's top achievements. From the rescue of Detroit automakers to the killing of Osama bin Laden, the film laid out the case for re-election all with a narration featuring the dulcet tones of George Clooney.
BREAK OUT STARS
Conventions can be the political equivalent of Star Search, and this year’s crop didn’t disappoint with the likes of Marco Rubio, Elizabeth Warren, Chris Christie and Julian Castro taking the stage to see if they could emerge as the new face of their respective parties.
But most of the big names wilted under the spotlight or delivered merely passable performances, save one. Rubio, the Cuban-American Tea Party favorite, outshone Mitt Romney at the Republican Convention.
His rags-to-riches story about his family’s climb up the America's economic ladder left many comparing him to another youthful political star from conventions past — Barack Obama. After all, then-Illinois State Senator Obama was able to parlay his 2004 Democratic Convention speech into an improbable run for the White House four years later. Rubio left Tampa with many pundits predicting a similar future.
Both Ann Romney and Michelle Obama were tasked with pulling back the curtain on the inner lives of their high-profile spouses, and both women proved more than worthy of the task at hand. Ann Romney’s discussion of her struggles with multiple sclerosis and breast cancer helped make her tremendously wealthy family more accessible. She was poised, confident and emphasized her husband’s character over his political positions.
But she was no match for Michelle Obama, who was dazzlingly emotive in a speech that recounted her husband’s improbable rise and helped make her story seem more down to earth by ticking-off items like mortgages and students loans. It was a tour de force with the First Lady getting visibly choked up at points in her address. Twitter exploded with speculation about Michelle Obama’s political future before the speech had even wrapped up. Barring that, perhaps a career on the stage?
To be fair, the Democrats’ grand finale was spoiled by thunderstorm warnings and had to be moved inside, but their lackluster set was no match for the elegant mahogany and walnut stage that anchored the Republican’s stage show.
Indeed, the GOP stage looked more presidential, while the Democrats' sparse set with its tired blue carpeting, hideous wooden podium and drab screen displays looked like it could double for a lobby at a Ramada Inn.
From a television — not a policy — perspective, there wasn’t even a contest. The Republicans gamely trotted out speakers of wide-ranging ethnic backgrounds like Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who is Indian American, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But every time the cameras panned across the delegates in the convention hall that big tent message was nullified: Instead of a rainbow coalition, the crowd was overwhelmingly white and middle aged.
In contrast, the Democratic convention floor, overflowed with African Americans and Latinos, and men and women from several generations. From an optics perspective, unless you’re filming an episode of “Antiques Roadshow,” those are the reaction shots you want.
PARTY ALL STARS
It wasn't only newcomers like Marco Rubio and Elizabeth Warren who made a splash at the two conventions.
A number of already established stars, such as vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, the current holder of that office, showed off their rhetorical prowess to varying effect. Ryan's was a seamless, nearly faultlessly delivered attack on President Obama, while Biden's address was clunkily executed and overly reliant on hackneyed expressions of "folks" and "literally."
But both men were outshone by a graying eminence in the form of Bill Clinton. The former president delivered a policy rich, albeit folksy, defense of President Obama — a case that many commentators suggested the Democratic standard bearer would do well to crib from.
With former President George W. Bush's poll numbers deflated, the Republicans could not counter with an ex-commander in chief of their own, although in this case it may have been addition by way of subtraction.
Advantage: Democrats, but they owe it all to Bubba
Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney's addresses will be studied in the history books as examples of soaring orations. After all, even their advocates would have to acknowledge that both were workmanlike efforts, aimed at attracting swing voters instead of appealing to the "better angels of our nature."
That's not to say they didn't have their high points. Romney, who can often seem awkward on the stump, became visibly emotional when describing raising his five sons in a way that was effective at obviating the Democratic caricature of him as an unfeeling plutocrat. However, the Republican hopeful was knocked for not offering up an prescriptions for the country's fiscal woes. He will also never be anyone's idea of an electrifying speaker.
In contrast, Obama's speech was more smoothly delivered and larded up with economic and foreign policy data. But it was also overshadowed by Bill Clinton's galvanizing stem-winder of the previous night. "You were the change," Obama said at one point during his address. Only change didn't feel as good as when it was paired with hope four years ago.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified Gov. Nikki Haley as Native American. She is Indian American.