The weird but watchable DNC nomination roll call

The Zoom convention format is unfortunate in many ways. There’s no live crowd to lend energy to the speeches and the parade of pre-recorded talking heads makes the event feel like a telethon. Democrats are doing what they can to liven things up within the limitations imposed on them by the pandemic, but they can only do so much.

Last night’s roll call was the first convention tradition that actually benefited from the restrictions. Normally that’s the most boring part of the pageant — an hour or so of floor delegates running through the same shtick en route to declaring their votes for the nominee. E.g., “On behalf of the great state of New York, the Empire State, home of the city that never sleeps, where mass coronavirus death is somehow a political credential, we cast our votes for the next president of the United States, Joe Biden!” On and on in that vein, endlessly. Even hardcore political junkies can’t sit through all of it.

The secret to making it watchable, it turned out, was visual variety. Instead of delegates hooting about how great it is back home, they actually got to show it off in the on-location clips they recorded to nominate Biden. Not all delegations took full advantage — Indiana, for instance, seems to have recorded theirs in a random office, with Pete Buttigieg himself apparently the state’s star attraction — but others went all-in. The finished product was part travelogue, part contest to see whether each state could one-up the others. It had a vibe not unlike the start of a beauty pageant when the contestants introduce themselves in costumes playing off their state’s particular cultural heritage.

I doubt either party will ever again return to the old roll-call format, even after we’ve bid COVID farewell. (Whether either party will ever again return to the convention format, period, is a separate question.) For all the variety, though, there was no doubt which state won the competition:

Rhode Island’s entry was filmed on Warwick’s sandy Oakland Beach, where state party chairman Joseph M. McNamara submitted 34 of the state’s 35 delegate votes to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. And McNamara, who once led a contentious, years-long campaign to give fried squid official recognition in the statehouse, made an enticing appeal to viewers at home.

“Our state appetizer, calamari, is available in all 50 states,” McNamara said, as a masked chef in a black apron silently held up a platter with crispy rings of the breaded seafood in its traditional local preparation: slathered in garlic, parsley and sliced cherry peppers…

“The calamari just got the keynote slot for tomorrow night,” New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff wrote on Twitter.

The burly guy with the platter of calamari in Rhode Island’s clip is in fact a real seafood chef, head of three restaurants in the state — and he’s not sure he’s voting for Biden, per WaPo. “They say they’re going to change health plans, the economy, the workforce. … The only thing that really changes is the price of things going up, and all these rich people making more money,” he told the paper. The GOP should offer him whatever he wants to do a clip of him and Trump eating calamari together at the White House for next week’s convention.

Although, Rhode Island’s politics being what they are, that might not be good for the poor guy’s business.

Trump advisors are watching this week’s proceedings closely, of course, and taking notes on what works and what doesn’t. Dems had to dive off the cliff of the “Zoom convention” first. Republicans can watch their descent and adjust accordingly.

The push by Trump aides to give more airtime to “normal” speakers follows an emotional appearance by Kristin Urquiza during the DNC’s Monday night program. Urquiza, whose 65-year-old father died of Covid-19 in Arizona this year, accused the president of promoting an attitude of indifference toward the deadly virus that cost her father his life…

“The Arizona daughter who lost her dad to coronavirus was a cut through to the heart,” said one outside adviser to the Trump campaign.

“It reinforced the narrative that Trump has bungled coronavirus, which is something that’s on everyone’s minds right now.”

How are they going to handle the roll call now, though? If they do the same on-location format, even if they had the idea independently, it’ll feel derivative. If they do something more low-key, it’ll feel boring by comparison.

Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. Given the unpredictability of any production being staged by Trump, the GOP might need to give viewers an occasional breather. My suggestion: An entirely food-themed roll call. The state with the most enticing dish gets to introduce Trump on Thursday night. Or go as cloying as possible and have young kids whose parents are delegates from each state do the nominating on-location. “I’m Casey from Pennsylvania, I’m nine years old, and I’m pro-life because I’m glad I was born.” The script writes itself.