- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

NEWS ANALYSIS:

ST. PAUL, Minn. | John McCain, with his no-substitute-for-victory commitment, emerged from the Republican National Convention on Thursday at the helm of a party surprisingly united behind a throaty, aggressive foreign policy and a domestic policy rooted in the common-sense values of Sarah Palin.

It was the Alaska governor’s presence on the ticket as much as anything else that sealed the deal for the Republican Party’s conservative voter base - for now.

“Sarah Palin offers what social and religious conservatives see as a welcome contrast with Barack Obama and Joe Biden,” Hoover Institution scholar and former Pepperdine University President David Davenport told The Washington Times. “Her small-town, common-sense family values will resonate with the Republican base and bring some much-needed fire to the McCain campaign.”

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Republican analysts were saying, virtually until the announcement that Mrs. Palin would be on the ticket, that the party could not run on a base-turnout election strategy. They said too many voters had drifted away from the party in recent years - disappointed with the Republican-approved federal spending spree, the sex and money scandals, and the ill-conceived, hugely expensive and mismanaged wars.

Since their 2006 electoral setbacks, Republicans had been experiencing a crisis of confidence - until the convention here.

“People were worried not only were we going to lose in November, we were facing another period like the 1974 post-Watergate, hard GOP times,” said former White House domestic-policy adviser Gary Bauer.

That brought Republicans face to face with what ethicist and political analyst Merrill Matthews calls their “redefining moment” at their nominating convention here.

“The party faithful know they don’t like who they - or their elected representatives - have become for the past eight, and maybe 16, years,” he said. “But they weren’t entirely sure how to move forward. John McCain has been trying to point the way for a while, but he needed a boost.”

Two things appear to have helped Republicans redefine and unite their party - for the time being at least:

First, the emergence of an Obama-Biden Democratic ticket that frightens and therefore helps unite economic, national-defense, social and religious conservatives - the whole constituency shooting match when it comes to the Republican base.

Second, Mrs. Palin bringing to the ticket the passion for traditional family values and down-home religion, along with commitment to market economics and limited government, not seen among the Republican presidential hopefuls throughout the primaries this year.

How this happened may have something to do with that fact that political parties sometimes face what Mr. Matthews calls “redefining moments, where party leaders and members engage in some real soul-searching trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for.”

On script and on message, Mr. McCain closed the convention Thursday by capping that redefinition of the Republican Party, saying what he has said before and what never gets old for the ears of Republican stalwarts: There is no substitute for victory, no acceptability for defeat - in Iraq or anywhere else.

Mrs. Palin had said the same thing on the wars on terrorism and in Iraq, and added her unique commitment to values on Wednesday.

All this was reinforced by the center-stage convention appearance of the also-rans, who, on behalf of Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin, managed to give speeches that far exceeded in eloquence, force and impact anything they had managed to give in their own causes as candidates.

What took place on the convention stage the last two nights was the emergence of a new conservative leadership, what Mr. Bauer calls “Kmart Republicans,” who have come of age in the Republican, working-class people who periodically voted for Republicans and identified with the party’s cultural values.

But Republicans had a tin ear for them, and now the party of Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Mr. McCain has in Mrs. Palin somebody who doesn’t need any help in talking the Kmart Republicans’ talk and walking their walk because she is one of them.

“She not only broke the glass ceiling in the GOP, she broke Obama’s walls,” said Mr. Bauer.

The fiery pledges by Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin on winning the wars in Iraq and on terrorism do not lead Mr. Davenport to “describe the McCain foreign policy as neoconservative, but rather strong on national security and defense. The neoconservatives have an adventuresome spirit, wanting to try nation-building and democracy-planting in ways that a realist like McCain will not.”

Mr. McCain succeeded in cutting a strong profile as commander in chief and conveying the idea that, if elected, he will continue the Bush emphasis on national security.

“But I think he will shed much of the rest of the neoconservative foreign-policy agenda,” Mr. Davenport said.