Donald Trump promised a star-studded Republican convention, but the Democratic convention has been shining much brighter.
The Republican nominee initially claimed that his convention in Cleveland would be more exciting and celebrity-filled than past ones.
“It’s very important to put some showbiz into a convention, otherwise people are going to fall asleep,” Trump told the Washington Post in April. Ivanka Trump, the Republican nominee’s daughter and closest confidante, echoed her father’s bravado in June, telling a Virginia radio host, “It will be a convention unlike any we’ve ever seen. It will be substantive. It will be interesting. It will be different… It’s not gonna be a ho-hum lineup of the typical politicians.” Trump’s celebrity friends such as Tom Brady and Mike Tyson were rumored to appear.
But when delegates, fans and members of the media arrived in the Quicken Loans Arena in July, they were not met with quite the A-list cast that the former reality show host nominee had promised. The first night included speeches by Willie Roberston (Duck Dynasty), Scott Baio (Happy Days) and Antonio Sabato Jr. (General Hospital). Academy Award-winner Jon Voight, who appears in the upcoming Harry Potter “Fantastic Beasts” movie, narrated a biographical video. American Idol alum Ayla Brown, daughter of former Sen. Scott Brown, sang the national anthem. Basketball coach Bobby Knight, Ultimate Fighting Championship head Dana White and pro golfer Natalie Gulbis spoke.
And even that star power wasn’t always deployed well. Sabato managed to snag some time in the spotlight after his speech when he told ABC he “absolutely” believes President Obama is a Muslim.
Hillary Clinton made no promises about her convention being different, but it has been packed with as many celebrity appearances as some awards shows.
Hometown heroes Boyz II Men, who were popular in the 1990s, kicked off the first night. Singers Demi Lovato, Andra Day and Alicia Keys, all popular with millennials, performed, while Boomer-favorite Paul Simon sang Bridge Over Troubled Water to soothe a divided party. Comedian Sarah Silverman; actresses Eva Longoria, America Ferrera and Lena Dunham spoke, as did Scandal‘s Tony Goldwyn. Hunger Games actress Elizabeth Banks appeared onstage in the cloud of a fog machine on the second night, mocking Trump’s reality show-like entrance at his own convention, then appeared in an a cappella video with other celebrities singing Clinton’s campaign theme “Fight Song” alongside songwriter Rachel Platten.
TV ratings, one of Trump’s favorite metrics of success, show viewers were more drawn to the Democratic convention: 10.6 million Americans tuned in for the Democrats’ first night, compared to 10.1 for the Republicans’.
To be fair, it always tends to be easier for Democratic events to whip up celebrity guests, who tend to lean liberal. But Trump was a television star himself, and his convention fell short of the expectations he set. Now he claims that’s never what he wanted in the first place.
“I think we had, if you include my children and the great success that they had, I would say we had tremendous star power,” Trump told the Hollywood Reporter after the convention. “But I wasn’t looking for star power, I was looking for policy.”