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Shields and Brooks Weigh Impact of Subdued RNC on McCain Campaign

September 1, 2008 at 6:40 PM EST
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Hurricane Gustav's brush with New Orleans on the first scheduled day of the GOP convention has changed the dynamic of the event. Political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the convention's abbreviated first day and what lies ahead in the coming week.
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JIM LEHRER: Some final thoughts now from Shields and Brooks, the Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Let’s start with you, David. What are the politics of what is happening there at the — in the Gulf Coast and what is not happening here in this convention. Politics, not history, politics of the day, presidential politics?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, I mean, they could not have that split-screen image of Republicans speaking or especially Republicans speaking in any negative way and suffering in the Gulf Coast, so it was sort of a no-brainer, though I am struck by the fact that, after Pearl Harbor, nobody canceled anything. They had basketball games. They had everything.

Now, after 9/11, we cancel things. They’ve canceled this convention. Politically, I understand it. They just couldn’t afford that split-screen image.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

What do you think, Mark? What does this mean politically for both parties, or do we know yet?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I’m not sure we know yet, Jim. Obviously, the apparent bullet that’s been dodged in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and the lack of a loss of life and the response that seems far better organized is at least a neutralizing and not a liability for the administration, or for the Republican Party, or for John McCain, maybe even a minor plus.

The absence of George Bush and Dick Cheney is probably a serious blow to the ad-makers of Barack Obama who were looking for some fresh footage of McCain and Bush together.

I mean, Richard mentioned that George Bush is popular in this room. He is. He’s enormously popular. The CBS poll has him at 80 percent favorable among the delegates.

But for much of the Republican Party, he’s forgotten, if not gone, and especially for those who are trying to get John McCain elected.

Republicans miss a day

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
Losing one of the four nights is really a blow to Republicans, even though it is a night when George Bush and Dick Cheney are not being beamed into living rooms under the GOP standard.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about that, David, it's a real blessing that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did not show up here tonight?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think, if you talk to the McCain people, what do they want out of this convention? They want to show unity, which they've done with the Palin pick. They want to show security. They want to show, above all, they're not Bush.

And the Republican convention organizers are pretty open about that. And so they don't have to wrestle with that.

They wanted to show some sort of -- some set of new leaders. Now, there was a time when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to speak and that would have been quite good for the party. That didn't happen because of a crisis back in California.

So they had nothing but the old Republican Party on the schedule tonight and a few more minor figures. They really didn't miss anything.

And I happen to feel that tonight is actually historic in the sense that this will be the last four-day Republican or any convention that will be scheduled for four days. I think, if we miss a day here, that will be a signal in the years to come that we can get by with a three- or more likely a two-day convention.

So some of us who are here for four days, it's either good or bad, depending on how much you like shrimp.

JIM LEHRER: Do you buy that -- do you buy that, Mark, that this is going to cut the number of days?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I don't, Jim. No, I don't. As somebody who likes St. Paul enormously, I don't want to see that happen to any city in the future.

But I think that it's a blow for the Republican Party in this sense. You only get four days at a convention, as it is now, to introduce, to make your case to the American people, to introduce your ticket.

And Barack Obama had a big four days, if one is to believe the polls, of people who watched the convention, some 71 percent of Americans watched it at one time, according to CBS News. And his own supporters were more energized. And so there was a positive in their reaction to Joe Biden.

You have a brand-new running mate for John McCain, and you need as much introduction of her as you can possibly have. That's not simply her own speech. It's other people speaking glowingly about her, of character witnesses, and all that that entails.

And I think losing one of the four nights is really a blow to Republicans, even though it is a night when George Bush and Dick Cheney are not being beamed into living rooms under the GOP standard.

Palin dominates the news

David Brooks
New York Times Columnist
The investigations of [Palin's] life will dominate the news, because people are just tremendously curious about her.

JIM LEHRER: David, what about that, the Sara Palin -- the need to introduce Sarah Palin is being lost because of what happened here?

DAVID BROOKS: She will get her time. She's actually dominated the news today, anyway. There's a media feeding frenzy here over the subject of her daughter and her daughter's pregnancy.

But so she -- the investigations of her life will dominate the news, because people are just tremendously curious about her.

I happen to think that the Palin pick, because she's so enigmatic and so new, ended the Obama discussion, at least in the media, pretty quickly. And so now everyone is trying to figure out who Sarah Palin is, who her family is, and dig into her life.

And there's been incredible pro and con. And this convention, I think there -- at least some of the people I spoke to on the floor -- genuine enthusiasm for her. And on the subject of her daughter's pregnancy, I heard a lot of, hey, my mom was 18 when she delivered me. We have people in my church who were -- whose teenage daughters were pregnant. We welcome them in just as they're welcoming their daughter in.

And this is what you do. And this is part of the process of investigating her, but I think, in this case, of humanizing her.

JIM LEHRER: What about the heavy hitters, David, the heavy hitters in the Republican Party? How do they feel about Sarah Palin, how she may come up against Joe Biden in debates and other comparisons?

DAVID BROOKS: There's a split. Among the base, among the regular delegates, there's extreme enthusiasm. Among the people who are consultants, who are party leaders, I'd say at first there's worry, but then there's a real mixture.

Some people think she'll be great and think the whole personal story will trump everything and will be a fantastic story. There are a lot of people -- I'd say a significant minority, maybe 30 percent or 40 percent of the Republican leaders that at least I'm familiar with -- who are dead-set against it.

And some of them are against it for the experience reasons: She's not ready; it will be an albatross. Some are not ready for political reasons, who think she's a bad choice for political reasons. They just don't see who she gets that John McCain didn't already have.

They wish McCain had gone for an independent. They say, once people start talking about Palin's views on social issues, we'll be back in the old Republican Party. He should have gone with somebody who's much less orthodox, conservative, got that independent vote. And that's their argument.

I would say, in general, people are positive. But there is a significant minority of more experienced people who are worried.

Palin a 'maverick choice'

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
On the Palin choice [...] John McCain now has robbed himself of the argument that Barack Obama is dangerously inexperienced.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, what have you picked up on this, on the Palin choice?

MARK SHIELDS: On the Palin choice, Jim, the criticism really centers on John McCain now has robbed himself of the argument that Barack Obama is dangerously inexperienced.

Sarah Palin, by any standard -- I mean, she's an interesting, intriguing, maverick choice, but it's hard to cast her in the role as confidante to the president, counselor to the president, as somebody that the president knows well, if that president were John McCain, which you can make that case for Joe Biden, and that the argument that she's ready from day one to take over, if anything does go wrong, as has happened for so many. One-third of the vice presidents have become president in the past.

And I think you could make that case that Joe Biden does meet that test. So in that sense, it's a problem, but it does reinforce John McCain's maverick credentials. There was sort of a, you know, "same to you, Mack" attitude in the choice.

JIM LEHRER: "I'll do what I want to do."

MARK SHIELDS: That's right, exactly. And one of the stories that I think David and I have both picked up was that John McCain's personal choice was probably Joe Lieberman, but that there was going to be a revolt in a number of delegations if Joe Lieberman were his choice, and that John McCain at that point said, "Hey, all right, if that's the way it is"...

JIM LEHRER: That's the way it is, OK.

MARK SHIELDS: ... "try this one on for size."

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

David, finally, what have you picked up -- what's going to happen next? Are they going to go back to the regular schedule? Are we going to have three days of a regular convention or what? Or do you know yet?

DAVID BROOKS: I don't know. I was asking around on the floor. And I was told we would find out just after we go off the air, at least possibly get some indication.

One hopes now they'll get back to normal. I'm sure the public wants to see five hours of this night after night.

No, I think they want to get back to normal. Assuming, you know, with the storm -- with Katrina, remember, the day of Katrina we thought we dodged a bullet. It turned out not to be the case. So they're going to look for that.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

JIM LEHRER: Sure, OK. Thank you, David. Thank you, Mark, and to all in St. Paul.