Politics & Policy

The Return of John McCain

Gearing up for 2008.

The opening night of the Republican convention was the most effective night of any convention I have seen since 1992. The September 11 presentation was affecting and pointed–”politicized,” as it were–and, what it could not be in Boston, integrated into the rest of the night.

And then there were McCain and Giuliani. Conservatives complained about them (or at least about the absence of more conservative voices) when the convention line-up was announced. But neither man used the occasion to air his disagreements with mainstream Republicans. Both of them say that what matters more are their agreements with the president about the war–and that is what they discussed.

My own view is that McCain’s speech was far superior to Giuliani’s, and that McCain positioned himself better for 2008 last night than Giuliani did. Giuliani had some great lines. The bit about Edwards’s “two Americas” was one of them, and the delivery was great. The story about the construction workers was one of the funnier things I’ve heard in a convention speech. (It was also interesting to note the clapping when Giuliani said he honored Kerry’s service.) But Giuliani suffered from following McCain. Giuliani’s speech was, in contrast to McCain’s, more bombastic. It was more susceptible to being caricatured in the media as a slashing partisan attack because it was one in parts. It was more narrowly targeted. McCain tried harder to reach the whole country; Giuliani wanted the convention hall. (The few times he tried to move beyond it, it was for another parochialism: his attempt to appeal to strong supporters of Israel.)

McCain’s shots at Europe and at Michael Moore were more effective because he didn’t mention France, or Moore, by name. Giuliani offered his disdain for Italy, of all countries, for the approval of the delegates. McCain even dared to offer an argument. The alternative to invading Iraq, he said, was not the status quo; it was a collapse of the sanctions regime. He is right about that. Who else would try to get such an argument across this week?

My guess is that McCain’s speech did more good for Bush than Giuliani’s did. I think the delegates knew it, too, and gave McCain credit for it. McCain’s own instincts, and bad advice, have foiled him before. But he just made a plausible claim on the party’s nomination for 2008. A McCain aide has recently been quoted saying, of Democrats disappointed by his embrace of Bush, that they had forgotten that he is a Republican. A lot of conservatives had forgotten it, too, before last night.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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