Politics & Policy

Republicans’ Day Off

Gustav undermined Democratic efforts to paint McCain as Bush.

St. Paul, Minn., Sept. 1 – Michael Moore’s reaction to Hurricane Gustav was to express delight that God’s justice would bring another storm upon Southern Louisiana just in time to disrupt the Republican convention.

He was not alone. Former DNC Chairman Don Fowler said much the same thing — the controversy, he would say later, was really the fault of the “right-wing nutcase” who recorded him stating that Gustav was proof God was on the Democrats’ side.

There are more than enough cynical explanations out there, attributing political benefits to the misery of others. But if God wanted to punish Republicans for their transgressions, he probably could have found a more effective way than to expose Louisianans’ lives and property to destruction. For although there was not much rejoicing in St. Paul today over the cancellation of festivities, there seemed to be little concern or frustration, either.

Yesterday’s cancelled speeches were also the ones most Republicans wanted to get out of the way as quickly as possible. The RNC’s official line to reporters is that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney remain popular among Republicans. But a wide range of GOP convention-goers with whom I have spoken — volunteers, junior and senior state party staff, and high-ranking elected officials — said privately that nothing was lost by the president’s absence. Bush’s closest allies speak of his role as one of “humility,” in which he remains in the background and raises money for the party.

Bush’s physical presence would certainly have offered Democrats an opportunity to use his unpopularity against their current nominee, Senator John McCain. Yet it would have been awkward for President Bush to steer clear of the convention under any other circumstance. The inclusion of his wife Laura in the schedule last night allowed Republicans to exploit the better half of President Bush without highlighting his liabilities.

Palin Power

Republicans are still buoyant today over McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. It has already solidified and enthused a hesitant GOP base: McCain’s campaign raised $7 million in one day after the Palin announcement was made. A state party official from New Jersey told me that whereas he typically receives four or five phone calls from new volunteers each day, he received 43 calls on Friday afternoon.

Palin’s pick offers advantages because she offers something for nearly everyone. She appeals to conservatives, to moderate women, and to former Hillary voters. Anyone who wanted to make history with their vote this year will find that they can do so by voting for either major party.

Most importantly, Palin is a true reformer who has made many Republican enemies in her state by taking on the party’s corrupt political culture in Juneau — even going so far as to endorse the challenger to Rep. Don Young in last week’s still-undecided primary election. In Obama, Republicans are facing a Democrat who has spent his career embracing and defending the perpetrators of Chicago’s political corruption. Even if the Palin pick forces Republicans to mute their attacks on Obama’s lack of experience, they can now legitimately undermine the “change” branding he has seized for himself.

Palin has a difficult gauntlet ahead of her, to be sure. The mainstream press will pounce on any gaffe, particularly in the next few weeks. The revelation that her minor daughter is currently with child provided an unwanted distraction yesterday. It is still unlikely to make much of a difference in the campaign — Democrats would only hurt themselves by attacking a 17-year-old girl, although that has not stopped the left-wing blogosphere.

If it came as a pleasant surprise for conservatives, the choice of Palin caught Democrats completely off guard. As of Monday morning, the DNC had not yet updated its website, “The Next Cheney,” to reflect the choice of Palin. Still posted were the images of what they considered to be the top nine potential VP picks of McCain, with a set of talking points against each one. Palin did not even make the list.

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