Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 3:08 am | Fair 51º


Susan Estrich: What About Bernie?

It’s strange how it happens almost overnight. One day, you’ve got television crews crowding for position, top correspondents big-footing out the juniors who were first assigned to what was viewed as a lost cause, and of course, crowds cheering.

And now what?

Did Bernie Sanders dream of pumping his own gas, driving his own car, looking for his loyalty card at the drug store, the joys of everyday life? Dream or not, they are back.

The transition from presidential contender to one of a dozen losers is swift and brutal. Some candidates welcome it, or so they say. I’m not sure who welcomes having to stop at red lights.

But Bernie’s time in the spotlight is not quite over. He has one more moment: the Democratic National Convention.

Ever since the Democratic suicide of 1968 (police tear gassing demonstrators outside the hall and demonstrations inside), every convention manager and planner has understood that the worst possible thing you can do is lose control of your convention.

If you can’t run a convention, you definitely can’t run a country; respondents have told pollsters this much for the last three decades.

What that means is that you have to do what you have to do to avoid a walkout at the convention, to shut down any talk of alternate nominations or civil war. Even a whisper will overshadow the day’s intended message. It’s far better to compromise.

The best modern example of a convention where this didn’t happen was 1980. No olive leaf was extended in the Kennedy direction.

We waited to be invited to go to a strategy retreat, or something of that nature. Never came.

The minute the platform’s drafting committee sat down, the Carter representatives made clear that anything proposed by the Kennedy representatives was unacceptable.

My stack of minority reports climbed. By the time we were done with “Rules and Credentials,” I must have had 44 minority reports — not a word of which I was willing to compromise about, under instructions from my boss.

Being a young troublemaker is so much fun. We ended up trading six minority reports, as I recall, for Tuesday night.

Modern conventions aren’t really about doing anything. Delegates are well-entertained props who rarely (never, if you’ve got it totally under control) cast a meaningful vote on anything.

Sure, there’s the platform, but my decades of experience with platforms (if only I’d taken up golf or tennis instead) taught me that no one cares about what’s in the platform; they only care if there are fights.

So you give in. You add an aspirational “We look forward to the day when,” and everyone can be happy.

Some Republican bean counters will try to make a one-day story of how much the Democratic platform would cost (they do this every four years). The candidate says something like, “There is much that I respect in the platform, but...” and that’s the end of that.

Modern conventions are a sort of TV miniseries, growing even more mini by the day, as networks realize that they are covering scripted television.

The challenge is to juggle all the people who are trying to squeeze into the four hours of prime time, most of which is already spoken for when you have a former president and a presidential nominee who happen to be married to each other.

Who gives the keynote (usually Monday)? When does Sanders get a speech and balloons and all the extra floor passes so his people can feel like they won something?

Do you put him on Tuesday, up against Bill Clinton, or do you move the former president to Wednesday, which might overshadow all the nominating speeches?

Yup. It’s down to this. I’m sure it’s under discussion. What does Sanders want?

My advice, worth nothing: He should become a Democrat, endorse Hillary Clinton, and go Tuesday without a fight.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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