They both made history. They both struggled to project visions of perfect unity. They both used fear and grief to motivate their troops as they prepare to square off in the general election.
The back-to-back Republican and Democratic hullabaloos in Cleveland and Philadelphia echoed each other in other ways too. The kids of the candidates got starring roles to soften the edges of their images. Retired military brass were deployed, rather, to apply a layer of tungsten. Neither were in the least bit dull, which can often be the case with these stage-managed affairs.
As America sighs in relief and returns to normal programming, how does one tell them apart, even for those of us who were at both?
Where was it that, unprompted, a delegate turned to this reporter and let loose a blaze of vitriol about the dishonest, biased liberal media? It was in Philadelphia.
Which party threw a convention 75 per cent of Americans saw as ‘positive’? The Republicans.
Suddenly, it all seems a blur. Exposing the brain to protracted blasts of very hot air can do that to a person. I know Hillary Clinton was in dazzling white. And I am thinking Ivanka Trump was also. Correct me if I’m wrong. I am no longer sure. Although, you know what, who cares?
Except, of course, we do. Step back and recover your faculties and you are reminded that while they deployed a few of the same tricks, from the balloon drops to the casting of minor and major celebrities – the Republicans had to settle for minor ones, whose names also escape me for now – in all ways that matter these conventions were negative images of one another.
And so it should be, perhaps. What would be the point of an election if there was no telling the candidates and their parties apart? The Venn diagram of partisan America is different now. There is scant overlap between the two camps anymore and it showed at the conventions. It’s why when Ms Clinton declared the country was approaching a “day of reckoning” she had it exactly right. Does America want a Cleveland future or a Philadelphia future?
One option looks a whole lot darker than the other. There were moments in Cleveland when this reporter’s jaw hit the floor. Rudy Giuliani ranting about extremist Islamic terror made me wonder if he’d jumped the rails. Governor Chris Christie playing a sort of charades pretending to be a Nuremberg prosecutor listing the reasons Ms Clinton must be punished. “Guilty or not guilty?” he asked of each charge. “Guilty!” the delegates roared.
When retired Army general Michael Flynn prompted one of numerous rounds of chants of “lock her up”, he scanned the faces of his own party and replied, “There’s nothing wrong with that.” The Republican convention made history because of the depth of its fury and the odious spread of its vitriol.
That ‘positive’ GOP convention poll is hard to fathom, isn’t it? It was done for CNN. Those people must have been watching the Cleveland convention with blindfolds on. And earplugs in.
The utterly opposing tones – ethical codes even – of the two campaigns was perhaps best displayed on Thursday night. In Philadelphia the Muslim father of a Muslim son, Army Capt. Human S.M. Khan, who was killed while fighting for America in Iraq in 2004, took to the stage and brandished the US constitution to chide Mr Trump. “Look for the words liberty and equal protection under the law”, he told the Republican nominee wondering if he had ever actually read it. The delegates in the room erupted into chants of, “USA, USA, USA!”
Several hundred miles west in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mr Trump was in the midst of a rally perfectly encapsulating what the father of that soldier was talking about. He essentially equated all Syrian refugees with terrorists and rehearsed his pledge to bring back waterboarding. Ms Clinton wants to open the refugee floodgates, he opined, he would sent them back.
“You know what they do? They put them all over the country. Nobody even knows where they’re being put, so we don’t even know what’s going to happen – but all we know is we watch these people with the slashings and the throat cuttings and the cutting off of the heads and the drowning in steel cages,” Mr Trump declared.
“These are people, they have to be stopped,” the man who may be president went on. “They have to be stopped. And they have to be stopped very, very strongly and very viciously, if we have to.” And his supporters in the room roared back, “USA, USA, USA!”
Like the campaigns themselves, the two conventions were addressing two entirely different audiences in a land cleaved down the middle over where they want it to go next. Ms Clinton summed up that division the best. Her campaign is about bringing Americans together to chart the best course forward, she said, while her opponent is asking permission to rule all on his own.