Heading into the Republican Convention this week, the Grand Old Party is facing a perfect storm of momentous challenges that need to be overcome if they want their convention to rival the success of last week’s Democratic Convention.
While convention organizers and McCain campaign strategists were preparing over the last week, three events happened that combined to form this situation.
1. The Democratic convention was not only near perfect in its orchestration, but an otherwise relatively slow news week gave it unprecedented attention from the media. The media narratives were as good as could have been expected considering the Hillary Clinton situation, and whether or not unity was actually achieved, it sure looked like it was. Barack Obama’s momentous speech in front of 84,000 supporters was watched by an estimated forty million Americans, and generally got great reviews. Republicans planning to announce their vice presidential pick to cut into Obama’s wave of momentum must have been feeling like it was more of a tidal wave.
2. Although the media attention over the surprise pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate was the intended outcome, it seems to have backfired. The media frenzy over trying to figure out exactly who she was and whether she was qualified enough for the job was exacerbated yesterday with the revelation of Palin’s pregnant unmarried 17-year-old daughter. Because of this, Palin-related debate between journalists and Obama supporters discussing the story and republicans denouncing its relevance seems to have completely consumed all non-hurricane news coverage early this week.
3. Hurricane Gustav’s momentous hype convinced Americans they were facing a sequel of hurricane Katrina. If the GOP convention was running as planned, it would not only be receiving partial media coverage but could have easily been perceived as insensitive.
Despite the situation, the republicans have every opportunity to overcome these challenges, and may be already on their way to doing so.
1. The convention could easily pull off the guise of unity between social conservatives and McCain supporters with an enthusiastic convention crowd. Although there is a well-known “enthusiasm gap” between the republicans and the democrats, the GOP has surely found enough raucous supporters to fill the Xcel Energy Centre in St. Paul. They likely won’t be able to replicate the grandeur of Obama’s stadium speech, but if they can find a bold hook or theme for McCain’s speech, they can probably cause as many waves.
2. On face value, Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy can look like a huge problem for McCain’s campaign. In the end, it will only be relevant insofar as it affects the opinions of swing voters. So far, it appears to have garnered sympathy from many of them who now see her as very human and accessible. The fact that her daughter has decided to keep the baby has also won her instant authenticity with pro-lifers. Finally, many Obama supporters are probably salivating at the opportunity to rightfully call her out on the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only education. I feel strongly that if you don’t tell young teenagers about condoms and birth control and you instead tell them “just don’t have sex,” you get teen pregnancy and likely more abortions. But confronting Palin about this will do nothing but make her look like a victim and create sympathy from women all over America. Democrats need to remember that when vice presidential candidate John Edwards called out Dick Cheney at the VP debate in 2004 on the contradiction between Cheney’s anti-gay policy stances and the fact that his daughter was gay, the public just saw Edwards as a jerk.
3. One of the bigger reasons that Barack Obama is the democratic nominee is discontent with the Bush Administration’s competence, which was on full display during hurricane Katrina. A second Katrina would mean death for John McCain’s campaign, but a well-executed response from the Bush Administration alongside Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal could help. Since Gustav was over-hyped and the preparations were massive, the latter is more likely to be the reality. Gustav also gave the GOP the perfect excuse to cancel speaking engagements from their biggest albatrosses, Bush and Cheney. If the republicans manage to successfully integrate sympathy for gulf-coasters into their convention, which they fully plan on doing and already started with last night, they may be able to alleviate the pain felt by the truncated convention.
Whether or not they can pull this off in the eyes of the electorate will determine whether the party is divided and doomed, or united and strong. It seems that President Bush will be speaking tonight after all, so who knows…
Alex Leduc is a freelance columnist and blogger, as well as a journalism student at Concordia University. All his political columns are available at www.alexleduc.com