Eight years ago this week, Republicans watched the weather report uneasily while preparing to gather in Tampa. GOP leaders weren't that nervous over their nominee. Mitt Romney had made amends for his earlier heresy (he'd been dismissive of Ronald Reagan) by campaigning enthusiastically for John McCain in 2008, while building up just enough conservative cred to past muster.
What worried Republicans wasn't their nominee; it was a weather system called Isaac -- and their generally lousy luck during hurricane season. Four years earlier, a tropical storm made landfall in Louisiana just as the GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., was to begin. New Orleans is a long way from the Twin Cities, but party officials were still smarting over George W. Bush's much-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina. Some wondered: Are we jinxed? Is Mother Nature secretly supporting Barack Obama?
Such angst seems quaint in a year when both major U.S. political parties are holding conventions online because of a crippling global pandemic. Yet the prize remains the same: the presidency -- the Holy Grail of American politics. I might point out that the citadel of that prize, the White House, was set afire by British troops 206 years ago on this date.
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Burning the White House actually backfired on the British. That level of destruction -- even if it was done in retaliation for depredations done by the Yanks in Canada the previous year -- earned condemnations in Europe while redoubling the resentment and determination of the Americans. It was, in other words, counterproductive.
What I'm about to point out is an inexact analogy -- vandalism and arson do not equate to speech, regardless of what lunacy has leeched from college campuses into the body politic -- but once upon a time, the two political parties showed respectful deference to the opposition during their conventions. They did this by merely keeping their mouths shut.
Not any longer. With his singular knack for self-promotion and bombast, President Trump tried his best to discredit the Democrats during their online gathering. This week, the Democrats are returning the favor. The news that Trump is going to give his Thursday acceptance speech from the South Lawn of the building the British torched is only going to amp up the vitriol.
This is now known as "counter-programming," which is a lame euphemism. A better description of it is "tacky." And a media that hasn't itself become partisan and polarized might point out that this incommodious custom is a fairly recent development.
As a contrast, consider the 1996 mid-August Republican convention held in San Diego where Jack Kemp was introduced to the GOP delegates as Bob Dole's running mate. I covered the White House at the time and recall the Democrats' reaction. Instead of spending the week badmouthing the GOP ticket -- the approach taken by Trump toward Joe Biden -- Bill Clinton and his family went on vacation in Jackson Hole.
On Aug. 14, 1996, President Clinton met briefly with a group of White House correspondents who had made the trip to Wyoming. He was asked this question:
"Do you care to comment at all about the choice of Jack Kemp for the Republican vice presidential nomination?
"No, I'm going to leave them alone." Clinton replied. "Let them have their convention. I like Al Gore. That's my comment. The best vice president in history."
Let them have their convention. Wasn't that a classier way to conduct politics?
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.