WASHINGTON — I've now been to 23 presidential conventions going back to the nominations of Eisenhower and Stevenson in 1956. So, from this overview, how would I rate this last one? Well, it wasn't a world-beater. But it got the job done. George W. Bush was well-launched.
What was really notable were the speeches. There were four - by John McCain, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney and Mr. Bush - that were well-enough written and delivered to have been keynoters at other conventions. And one, General Powell's passionate message, was truly memorable.
Above all, the Republicans have found the theme that can carry them to victory, if anything can: the argument that the country needs a change. And this call for a new day was underscored over and over from the convention podium.
Indeed, this message filtered down into the 11 breakfasts/lunches hosted by the Monitor where speakers - like GOP chair Jim Nicholson, Rep. Tom Davis (R) of Virginia, chairman of the GOP campaign committee in charge of maintaining and building the GOP's House majority, and senior Bush strategist Karl Rove - were stressing it was past time for a Republican-led change of direction.
Here might be a good place to recall some recently uttered wisdom by former President Bush. In a recent New York Times interview that wasn't widely noted, Mr. Bush made the startling prediction that his son would win. But then he went on to say that the reason he, himself, had been tossed out of office was because the electorate wanted a change - and that this same hunger for change would be working for George W.
No doubt about it: The public had become tired of the Reagan years, of which Bush's administration was viewed widely as an extension. Twelve years of Reagan and Bush was enough for the voters. That's basically how the already scandal-scarred Bill Clinton was able to squeak by Bush.
No, George W. isn't a certainty to ride the wings of change to victory. Far from it. In 1948, the country was ready for a change from the long FDR-Truman years. Thus, Tom Dewey had the presidency in his grasp. But then he blew it by conducting a lackluster campaign while Truman was whistle-stopping the country and "giving the Republicans hell," as he aptly put it.
So, although Bush leaves Philadelphia with a decided edge over Al Gore, he could still lose. But he'd have to self-destruct in some way or another. He's a spirited and effective campaigner; so he's clearly no Dewey. But it seems to me that he will have to trip up some way - could it be in the debates? - if he is to pluck defeat out of the jaws of victory.
This will be a very personal battle. It won't turn on the issues, in my opinion.
Republican pollster, Frank Luntz, told us at a recent Monitor breakfast that from his work with focus groups, he has found the voters "just aren't interested" in the issues in this presidential race. "They are only interested in the attributes of the candidates," he said, adding that the people today are focusing almost entirely on which of the two candidates they like better personally.
Mr. Luntz says there simply aren't any "really big issues" in this campaign. The public, he finds, isn't all that interested in how that big surplus is spent or how much tax cuts each candidate proposes.
And, now, a final look at the GOP convention. If excitement generated by it is to be our measure, then, no, the Philadelphia affair stopped well short of the top. It was no barn-burner, like the 1944 convention when Wendell Wilkie gained the nomination after thunderous support from the delegates.
And this was nothing like the exciting 1956 Democratic convention when presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson let delegates select his running mate.
But there were those fine speeches. And, again, George W. was well-launched.
So, in my memory book, I have to say of what occurred in Philadelphia: It got the job done.
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