Hurricane Gustav has put on hold the party and splendor of the Republican National Convention, at least until today. As the Category 2 storm approached the Gulf states and even after the storm dissipated over land, there was talk that the party would have a chance to redeem itself during its convention, but there was nothing for the party to redeem, certainly not this Republican Party.
In response to Hurricane Gustav, all political activities were halted, except for necessary procedures that had to take place according to party rules on the first day of the convention. Here is an example of a party led by John McCain: the needs of the country and its people come first.
The Republican Party meeting in Minneapolis-St. Paul this week is indeed under John McCain’s control. This party has learned the lessons from Hurricane Katrina, both political and moral, about how to carry out an effective and humane emergency response; this party is being purged of the corruption that cost it the majority in the House and Senate, and this party will get back to its conservative ideals of limited government and responsible spending. And in what could only be described as divine providence, that reality was manifest in the absence of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who were hunkered down in an emergency operations center in Austin, Texas, yesterday, and will spend the rest of the week redeeming themselves.
This is the “reform agenda” convention for the Republicans, said House Majority Leader John Boehner. “In 2006, the American people voted House Republicans out of power for one simple reason: We lost our way. And over the last 20 months, House Republicans have worked each and every day to renew our commitment to the principles that led the American people to trust us with the congressional majority in 1994. And this week in St. Paul, we will continue to articulate a powerful and positive vision for the future of our country based on those principles.”
But the Republicans will not just sound different, the party will look different. Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steel and Michael Williams, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission will have prominent speaking roles representing black Republicans. Mel Martinez, who was the RNC chairman for a time, will have a prominent speech leading a host of Hispanic members, and Bobby Jindahl, the first Indian American in history to be elected governor will likely address the convention via satellite as he deals with the aftermath of Gustav. And no longer will it be perceived as a “white man’s party.” The presence of Alaska Governor and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin on the ticket with Mr. McCain signifies a stark contrast from a party that has been very exclusive when it came to its leadership and one that will accept talent and potential over seniority. But Mrs. Palin will have to show just how much potential her talent can yield. The selection of the first-term governor was a shock to everyone in the party ranks. Most were not sure what to say about her last Friday, and many high-ranking members awoke Saturday realizing that they had been passed over and wondering what that means going forward.
But if there is one political problem with the convention’s delay, it is that Mrs. Palin, so new to the national stage, will not get to introduce herself to the party’s Congressional leadership, elite and grassroots. She needs this time to assure them that she is the one who is most ready to step in should the nation need her to become president. That is a tall order with all the festivities. A quiet day with a nonstop series of meet-and-greets and some personal one-on-one sessions could have been helpful. Still, there are two months left to do all of that.
Her presence has already yielded positive results from conservatives who donated $4 million on Friday after her selection by Mr. McCain. That is good news for Mr. McCain, whose fundraising has been lackluster throughout this entire campaign. But those energized religious pro-life conservatives are going to want to hear more about Mr. McCain’s conservative credentials. Most importantly, they need to be convinced that he is ready to move in their direction on immigration, which includes no amnesty for illegal immigrants and continued enforcement against illegal workers and the employers that hire them.
Gustav notwithstanding, the Republican convention couldn’t have shaped up better for Mr. McCain. Although he loses a day of cherished free-media publicity, he doesn’t need it as much as his opponent did, and his vice presidential pick gets another day to prepare herself. Now that the storm has blown away and demolished the old Bush party, there is no need for Mr. McCain to separate himself and his party from that of his predecessors.