The Political Conventions Will Be Summer's Must-See TV (Guest Column)

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Major GOP figures will be AWOL at the convention but Donald Trump could appear all four nights. 

Tune in to see Trump talk (and talk), Bernie bug Hillary even more, and Bill and Obama battle for bragging rights, writes Mark Halperin, managing editor of Bloomberg Politics and EP of Showtime’s 'The Circus.'

The 2016 presidential campaign has been utterly unprecedented. TV ad buys have been overwhelmed by impulsive Instagram posts. Endorsements have been superseded by monster rallies. Bernie Sanders, a septuagenarian socialist, has captivated millennials as Hillary Clinton has trudged resolutely toward the nomination, weighted by controversies, suspicion and a perceived likability deficit. Meanwhile, Donald Trump — Twitter enthusiast billionaire — dispatched an army of senators and governors by employing a fantastical formula of trenchant nicknames, outrageous pronouncements, swaggering charisma and obsessive media coverage.

Now, as the wild preliminary act draws to a close, prepare for some completely unconventional conventions.

James Carville has joked the parties should permanently hold their quadrennial confabs in New Orleans and San Francisco to keep attendees fat and happy. Indeed, in recent decades, the gatherings have grown increasingly tedious and formulaic (Clint Eastwood's empty chair monologue notwithstanding), appealing only to party faithfuls and a captive press. Four days of canned speeches and bureaucratic business culminate with the Thursday main event when the minted nominee at last takes the stage.

This time, the formula is out the window. Both parties enter the conventions with Grand Guignol drama. Sanders' fortitude and grassroots support will guarantee him a sizable slice of attention, regardless of efforts at unity. Along with the Hillary-Bernie soap opera: the battle of the presidential bands. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are expected to give speeches on behalf of Madam Nominee, but keep score as they vie to sneak in the most brags about their own records.


Halperin (left) and Trump rode a Trump-branded Zamboni during an interview in 2015. 

Who would have thought the Republican convention could be more unified than the Democrats'? GOP bigwigs have fallen in line behind The Donald, with #NeverHillary squelching #NeverTrump. But prepare for massive demonstrations as legions of anti-Trump activists descend upon Cleveland and launch the civilian fight of the political season. And the Cleveland cast will be noticeably lighter on presidential might. After Jeb Bush's bruising defeat, George H.W. and George W. Bush plan to skip the proceedings, as will Numero Uno #NeverTrumper Mitt Romney. Trump likely will fill the void with sports stars, celebrities and his own photogenic family. Don't be surprised if the man himself shuns tradition and makes nightly appearances rather than a one-time cameo, serving as the host and emcee of his own convention.

Cleveland and Philadelphia may not offer the nightlife and world-class cuisine of the City by the Bay and The Big Easy, but both have restaurants and hotels that can hold all those flocking to document two historic events: the first time a woman has won a major party nomination, and the first time a reality TV star has become a party standard bearer. After years of yawns from TV audiences, you can bet that both acceptance speeches will garner primetime ratings more like the season finale of a top-rated show than a July rerun.

Halperin, managing editor of Bloomberg Politics, is a correspondent and executive producer of Showtime's 'The Circus.'

This story first appeared in the June 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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