- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

PHILADELPHIA The hand of George W. Bush is behind what Republicans here say is their most unified presidential nominating convention in recent memory and has been guiding key Republican players in that direction since November 1998.
The Bush management has been minute and meticulous, down to details like altering National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Mitch McConnell's convention speech.
Interviews with national party officials and Bush strategists yesterday made clear that the Texas governor and soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee has his hand-picked people running the show here. They have made sure there would be no public conflicts among party factions and, even more unusually, little or no trashing by convention speakers of Vice President Al Gore and the Democrats.
In the original version of Mr. McConnell's Monday afternoon convention speech, for example, he planned to bash President Clinton alluding to his sex scandals by talking about "what the meaning of is is" and to belittle Mr. Gore's 1996 campaign fund-raising practices by talking about Buddhist nuns.
"But the Bush people reviewed the draft and took those things out," a Republican who was part of the process confided.
The Kentucky senator didn't object because, like virtually every other Republican here, he is willing to go along with the Bush strategy, in part because the opposite strategy has not worked for the party in the last two presidential elections.
The unusual character and tone of this Republican convention was set in 1998, according to Rep. David Dreier of California, who is the the convention parliamentarian.
"After the '98 elections, when George W. Bush asked me to be his presidential campaign co-chairman in California, he talked about the kind of Republican Party he wanted to have," Mr. Dreier said. "This convention reflects that view."
What's more, it was Mr. Bush who chose to tear a sheet out of Mr. Clinton's 1992 campaign playbook to make this convention, for the first time in two decades, a conflict-free zone, Mr. Dreier said.
Mr. Bush watched his father lose his re-election bid to Democratic challenger Bill Clinton in part because Republicans were divided at their convention and Democrats were not divided, at least publicly, at theirs, he said.
At the Republican convention this year, Mr. Bush's behind-the-scenes convention mangers quashed any public fight over abortion even before the delegates arrived here and even quietly reversed a vote to change the party's rules for nominating presidential candidates in future elections when it too threatened to turn into a public brawl on the convention floor.
From the perspective of Republican National Co-chairman Patricia Harrison, the strategy for this convention was made evident to top party officials by Mr. Bush "and the Bush team, I would say a year ago."
Once it became clear that "what was going to come, no matter what, would come from" Mr. Bush's national campaign headquarters in Texas, she said, "then everybody understood that Austin rules. And for very good reason. They know what they're doing."
"The mistake would have been to run another inside the [Washington] Beltway convention," Mrs. Harrison said. "This is definitely not that."
Bush campaign chief strategist Karl Rove insisted that neither polling nor focus groups motivated the non-confrontational nature of the convention.
"The decision to give each night over to a major thematic and a specific set of policy initiatives was made sometime in May or early June," Mr. Rove said. "We had five big issues we wanted to talk about and not enough time to talk about them if we took one night out of the mix. That was the critical decision not to devote Tuesday night to the traditional trashing of the Democratic opposition."
North Dakota Gov. Edward T. Schafer, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, agreed that the decision to run this kind of convention was made when Mr. Bush first decided to run for president. "He said, 'I don't want to have that problem at the convention,' " said Mr. Schafer.
"He told us that too often today we're seeing the Republicans beat up the Democrats and the Democrats beat up the Republicans. People look at that and say, 'No matter who we send into public office, they're a bad actor.' "
Mr. Bush made clear that he "doesn't like that, doesn't want it. He wants to bring a good image to government, wants people to feel good about their government and the way to do that is to present a good, positive image and at this point I think he has been very successful in making that happen."

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