In the digital age, convention speeches are more about personal branding than uniting a party, sometimes propelling relatively obscure political figures into instant national stars.
At a National Convention, political speakers are more often concerned with bolstering their celebrity then with uniting a party. It happens across both sides of the aisle, election cycle after election cycle, politicians stumping to prove how American they are so they appear relatable to middle-class independent voters.
During Trumpsanity and the Republican National Convention, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas spoke about his upbringing and decision to serve in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. He tied his personal story to the theme of Monday night’s RNC, “Make America Safe Again.” The freshman senator barely mentioned Donald Trump. Cotton’s speech was not unlike many others this week.
Conventions are a good place to build a personal brand and sell it to everyday Americans because it’s one of the most popular venues there is for politicians, especially low ranking ones. Speeches are increasingly played, replayed, dissected, made into memes, and plastered across the gamut of digital devices. Every election cycle, a speech has the reach and the staying power that was virtually unthinkable just four years earlier. A good speech today can propel a relatively obscure politician into an instant national star.
In 2004, then state Sen. Barack Obama became a household name after keynoting the Democratic National Convention. The crux of Obama’s 2004 speech was about his “American story”. He mixed in a slew of subjects, but led with his personal story in an attempt to build a rapport with middle-class Americans. Former Obama aide David Axelrod would later tell Chicago Magazine that Obama wanted to “talk about my story as part of the American story” in reference to the 2004 speech. Four short years later, the Obama brand made history.
Television ratings are even growing for national conventions after decades of decline. The 2008 conventions were a combined television juggernaut with nearly 40 million viewers. The digital evolution aside, one thing remains the same; politicians further using national conventions to brand their American stories, and win the hearts and minds of voters.