For Trump and Clinton, Conventions Will Be High-Stakes Leadership Auditions

The issues demanding attention are numerous and include many that a president must confront.

Yet another pattern being broken in this bizarre political year: Summer is not the usual sleepy news-free season when the political conventions, though little more than high-budget infomercials, are the only big thing happening. Instead, the news events of the past few days are so significant that both parties’ conventions will have to address them directly, transforming these extravaganzas of balloon dropping into real-time leadership auditions for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and their parties. The issues demanding attention are numerous and include many that a president must confront:

-Sunday’s police shootings in Baton Rouge, just 10 days after the Dallas shootings, require the candidates to address race relations, police behavior, deep anger across society generally, law and order, and gun control. Will Trump and Clinton speak substantively on these difficult issues, potentially chilling the celebratory atmosphere of their coronations, or will they stick with platitudes? Or will they assign surrogates to talk about the downbeat stuff earlier in the convention?

-The failed military coup in Turkey poses hard questions about foreign policy, our allies, and Middle East strategy. In the early hours of the crisis, President Obama said, “All parties in Turkey should support the democratically elected government,” but now that the dust has settled, many are wondering how democratic it is. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, already under fire for dictator-like behavior, almost immediately began a purge that went well beyond the military, dismissing 2,745 judges within 24 hours. Should this person be a U.S. ally? Or is Turkey, a NATO member, so critical to the fight against ISIS in neighboring Syria and Iraq that we simply must work with its government? “We stand by the government of Turkey,” Secretary of State John Kerry said over the weekend; hours later, a Turkish government minister publicly accused the U.S. of being secretly behind the coup attempt. Do Trump and Clinton agree with Kerry?

-The Bastille Day truck attack in Nice is beginning to look less like the act of a deranged loner (though he was that) and more like an act of ISIS-inspired martyrdom, say French authorities. That brings the issue home, because the attack looks similar to the Orlando nightclub shooting last month. Will Donald Trump respond by stating some version of his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. (which his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, denounced as “unconstitutional” when Trump first made it)? Or will he repeat his proposed ban on visitors from “terrorist nations,” and if so, would those nations include France, which has been home to the perpetrators of three serious terrorist attacks in the past 19 months? Will Clinton make specific proposals to prevent terrorism in the U.S., or will she turn the focus on gun control? And if so, what about truck control?

The hardest questions of domestic and foreign policy are making bigger headlines than the presidential election. If Trump and Clinton want attention for their conclaves, they’ll have to raise their parties’ games way above their usual snore-worthy summertime standard.

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