Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Are the two political parties merging or getting further apart?

The 2016 Republican and Democratic national conventions are history. The focus now shifts to the November election. But first, a few loose ends to tie up.

Hillary Clinton emerged from the historic Democratic convention as the first-ever woman nominee of a major political party, fighting off insurgent Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. After a controversial convention, will the nation’s Democrats unify around Clinton? 

Pignanelli: "Political campaigns don’t happen in a vacuum. As strong a motivator as Trump is with his core constituency … he’s at least as strong at motivating Democratic opposition.” — Joshua Green, Bloomberg Politics

This presidential election is the strangest in our nation's history. But it got weirder in both conventions with the Ted Cruz "vote your conscience" speech and Russians hacking Democratic emails. So if extraterrestrials are discovered using mind probes to help a campaign, no one will be shocked.

Although there was talk of love and "togetherness" in Philadelphia, Democrats introduced Trump into the major leagues of hardball politics. They responded to four days of GOP Hillary-bashing with plenty of hard-hitting attacks on his personality and business practices. Further, the Clinton campaign was aggressive in rehabilitating her image with contrasting features — tough, effective senator and secretary of state who possesses a compassionate heart.

Trump and Clinton faced conventions with the same tasks — cure the divisiveness within party ranks and reach out to independents. Both adopted the strategy of scaring delegates and viewers with the prospect of the other in the White House.

The Democratic Convention endured the unending complaints of many obnoxious Sanders supporters. But while they may continue to "feel the Bern," the prospect of President Trump will promote party unity.

Webb: The Democrats had a very conventional convention with far more star power than the Republicans, better speeches, better organization, more inspiration, more discipline, more unity and a very effective prosecution of Donald Trump. I’ll be surprised if Clinton doesn’t get a nice bump in the polls.

Still, the Democrats were preaching to the choir. Meanwhile, some 80 percent of citizens think the country is going in the wrong direction after nearly eight years of Barack Obama. The mutual Clinton/Obama embrace means four more years of big government liberalism. Forget the change agent the country needs.

Trump may be outrageous, but Clinton remains the secretary of status quo. Plenty of angry voters want to see the government disrupted. Trump, the champion of chaos, is their guy.

The Democratic and Republican platforms are fascinating. They may be the most liberal and conservative, respectively, in history. Yet, both platforms share surprising populist elements, such as antagonism toward trade agreements. Are the two parties merging or getting further apart?

Pignanelli: The new policies articulated at the conventions confirmed we are amid a major realignment of political demographics. Clintonian Democrats of the 1990s and early 2000s emphasized entitlement reform, free trade and sensible financial regulation. Apparently the delegates and convention speakers believe such successful policies belong to the Dark Ages.

Further, the insurgent candidates are wishing to expand government (Trump: deporting 11 million immigrants, building walls, etc.; Sanders: free college tuition, single-payer health care, etc.) and their populist beliefs infiltrated the conventions, which explains the many similarities.

Webb: The platforms, thankfully, don’t mean much. They’ll barely be mentioned the rest of the campaign. But both platforms leave traditional mainstream conservative Republicans like me a little cold. The anti-trade planks of both platforms are shortsighted and damaging to the economy.

While I agree with much in the GOP platform, the far right-wing elements alienate moderate and independent voters. The old-fashioned, ultra-liberal positions in the Democratic platform perpetuate the myth that more government, more regulation and higher taxes will solve the country’s problems.

Best use for both platforms: Tinder to start a fire at the next Boy Scout campout.

Post-convention, which party and candidates are best positioned to pick up momentum through the summer and fall and win in November?

Pignanelli: If anyone tells you they can predict this unusual election, either laugh or throw something at them. Clinton has a huge Electoral College advantage that could dissolve from external forces (i.e., terrorist attacks, a recession, Russians, etc.). Conversely, Trump’s post-convention bump will dissipate every time he speaks.

Maybe those aliens can tip the balance.

Webb: This obviously isn’t the matchup I wanted. I do want to see a Washington shake-up. I’m all for controlled disruption. I wish loose-cannon Donald would show me he can be a responsible change agent who won’t throw the country into war or depression in his first six months.

On paper, Clinton should win. Her party is more unified, her campaign is better run and more disciplined. She has a better ground game and a lot more money. But she’s also deeply flawed, unexciting and untrustworthy and represents more of the same.

So the election shapes up as establishment, status quo, big-government Hillary vs. loud-mouth, egomaniac, anarchist Donald — lacking guiding principles and common sense.

What a great choice.