RAY SUAREZ: Welcome back to the
online NewsHour's Insider Forum. I'm Ray Suarez. All this week, the online
NewsHour will be asking Republican analysts and leaders your questions as we
report from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul,
Today was supposed to be the first
day of the convention, but as Hurricane Gustav barreled down on the Gulf Coast,
Sen. McCain called for an abbreviated schedule. So here to speak with us about
the changes to that schedule is our first guest, Adam Mendelsohn, a senior
advisor to the campaign of Sen. John McCain.
And Adam Mendelsohn, thanks a lot
for joining us.
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Sure, my pleasure.
RAY SUAREZ: What's the latest on
the status for the remaining days of the convention -- Tuesday, Wednesday, and
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Well, as we sit
here, the storm has made landfall and we're all watching it very closely, and I
couldn't tell you -- literally, I could not tell you right now what Tuesday
will look like. We want to see what the damage is like. We want to assess the
mood of the country. We want to talk to the governors of the Gulf states that we've been in close
coordination with. And we're going to be responsive in terms of how this storm
impacts the country, so we're waiting to see.
RAY SUAREZ: It's common to hear
analysts and pundits dismiss political conventions as just a show, as a stage
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Right.
RAY SUAREZ: -- but there are legal
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Sure.
RAY SUAREZ: -- under election law
that have to be dispensed at this gathering. So at minimum what needs to happen
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Well, you have to
convene and you have to vote on the party platform and you have to officially
nominate the Republican Party nominee, so there is official business that we
have to undergo. If we don't, you would not have John McCain on the ballot. So
there's some official business that has to take place. That official business
is going to happen. And from there, anything else -- the politicking, the
speeches -- that all will wait based on what's going on with the hurricane.
So there was some rumor at some
point, well, will they cancel the convention? You can't cancel the convention. You
have to convene. It just depends on -- at that point it's a question of what
the convention -- what tone it takes on.
RAY SUAREZ: But isn't this an
important event for the ticket because they get a chance to present themselves
to the nation?
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Sure. I mean, you
know, the interesting thing, as I mentioned to you earlier, we don't know what
Tuesday is going to look like. Well, prior to this week people spent six months
to a year planning that Tuesday, and now we're literally planning it as we go
along. So they're obviously a big deal. The conventions are very important, but
they are not more important than what could be a national tragedy -- you know, we
hope and we pray it's not.
And so when you have a storm like
this barreling down on the Gulf Coast, politics take a back seat and you wait
to see how we manage the storm and we get through it and then we'll figure it
out because ultimately John McCain will have his opportunity to talk to the
American people whether it's this week or over the course of the campaign. What's
important now is we focus on the storm and we not focus on the politics.
RAY SUAREZ: Prominent elected
officials and delegates from the states that were in Gustav's path have headed
home. Do we know how many?
ADAM MENDELSOHN: I don't have a
hard count for you. I mean, I think the thing that's most interesting is every
one of the state governors had a role to play in this convention. You know,
Gov. Jindal was a major speaker from Louisiana.
Gov. Crist was a major speaker from Florida.
All of them have gone home.
And I think one of the unique
things is even though we're all the way up here in Minneapolis, this convention has had a
special relationship with the states because we had a good -- such a strong
relationship with the governors who are down there. So we're in close contact
with the governors' offices. We often take direction from them in terms of how
we should manage things. Tonight in the program there will be a fundraising
drive. It looks like some of the different charities that are in those states. So
it's been unique in terms of the fact that the governors -- most of the
governors were here in Minnesota
-- I shouldn't say that. Some of the governors were here in Minnesota when they got news and they went
back. So unfortunately they're not here, but what's great is that they're home
showing the state what Republican leadership is all about.
RAY SUAREZ: Will their votes still
be cast for John McCain as the nominee for president?
ADAM MENDELSOHN: I'm not sure -- we're
still working through the exact specifics here -- whether you can vote by
proxy. They don't need to be here for us to have a quorum or get this done, and
I don't know if you can vote by proxy. There will be videos tonight from the
governors who are down there -- they were prerecorded -- who are down there
fighting these or preparing their states for these hurricanes.
RAY SUAREZ: When you mentioned the
fundraising for charities in those states, is that what Sen. McCain meant by
action when he said that we should set aside the party and concentrate on
action -- that kind of thing?
ADAM MENDELSOHN: I think action
could be a lot of things. I just think, you know, it's interesting because this
-- the whole theme of this convention has been country first. And it really has
been raising the issue of what it means to put your country ahead of your own
needs or your own objectives. And we had themes and the first day was service. Today,
we're sitting around the second day. The second day is reform. The third day is
prosperity and the fourth day is peace.
And as we sit here, the theme of
today is service, and ironically we're out there trying to get people to go out
and act. And "act" could mean donating. "Act" could mean
volunteering. There are evacuees going across the state who need help. Act, or
service, just means stepping up. It doesn't have to be money.
We're going to do -- today we're
going to go out and build out a center where we're going to pack 80,000 care
packages to the evacuees. Delegates are going to go be volunteering there. We're
going to do a fundraising push tonight as part of the official program. So it
can be any number of ways, but the idea here is to commit to something that is
not about yourself, but about a larger cause.
RAY SUAREZ: Is the Republican Party
in general, and is candidate John McCain in specific, more sensitive about a
response to a Gulf
Coast hurricane because
of the experience with Hurricane Katrina, when President Bush's approval
ratings began to tank?
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Well, I think it
would be naïve to say that everyone watching a hurricane head towards New
Orleans is not thinking about the mistakes that were made with Katrina and not
cognizant of how do we fix it. I don't know that it's a Republican/Democrat
thing as much as it's just a government thing and a thing about this country
that did we do a better job.
The evacuations have proven to be
more successful than the first time. There are a lot of lessons that we learned
from Katrina and we will see what of those lessons were incorporated into this
current situation, and we're all watching closely. But the issue of Katrina, it's
not a party issue. I think it's just a question of how do we manage situations
like these and improve and do a better job, because clearly three years ago we
did not do a good job.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, isn't this one
place where Sen. McCain has really parted company with the president? He called
the Bush administration's response a disgrace.
ADAM MENDELSOHN: This is an area
where Sen. McCain spoke out -- spoke out forcefully, and it was something he --
you know, like the rest of the country he was not comfortable or he just didn't
like what he was seeing happening in New
Orleans. And that's who Sen. McCain is. Sen. McCain is
a person who doesn't -- who's not afraid to speak out when he sees an injustice
or sees something wrong, and I think in the instance of Katrina that's a good
example of where he may have done something that a traditional politician
wouldn't do, and he's just not a traditional politician.
RAY SUAREZ: Let's talk a little bit
about the mechanics of how these decisions are going to be made. Who's in the
room? How is it decided whether or not to go ahead with Tuesday, whether to
just pick it up with Wednesday and the vice presidential nomination? How do you
figure it out?
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Well, there's been
a group of us -- the program manager, the campaign manager, the chairman of the
convention, the chairman of the Republican Party -- there's a group of us who
have been meeting almost around the clock. I mean, really, I guess it was about
Saturday where we figured out this storm was something to be taken very
serious, and we always knew it was a serious issue, and we started preparing
contingencies Friday or Saturday -- it all blends together right now. And then --
Friday actually, because as I think back. And we were literally in rooms and we
were planning a contingency. There's a big table with about 15 people sitting
around it and thinking it through.
Again, I remind you, this is
something they've been putting -- trying to put on for over a year, and these
are well orchestrated events. I mean, they are the --
ADAM MENDELSOHN: -- down to the
minute, to the minute. Speakers have been contacted a long time ago and
programs set and videos. And to do it -- to literally wake up and say this is
what we're going to do and do it 12 hours later is a very complex thing. So
there's a group of us; we're scheduled to meet tonight to assess what's going
on tonight and make some decisions on tomorrow, and then we're going to all get
back together and we're going to piece back together a line-by-line when we're
prepared to have a convention. We may not have a convention again tomorrow.
RAY SUAREZ: Because the campaigns
themselves also have to respond. The candidate has to be somewhere and these
kinds of --
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Sure, sure.
RAY SUAREZ: -- schedules are also
set pretty well --
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Sure. You would be
shocked a the sheer volume of conference calls and meetings that are happening
right now. I think at any given time you could jump on one if you chose to.
RAY SUAREZ: Isn't Wednesday -- I
mean, a lot of the concentration is going on when Sen. McCain would speak to
the nation, but isn't Wednesday a pretty important night to this convention
because a fairly new personality on the national scene -- Governor Palin --
would have had her time to talk to --
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Well, there's no
rule that she speak on Wednesday, and like I said, we don't have a program for
Wednesday right now. She originally was supposed to speak on Wednesday -- may
still. We don't know. So they're all big nights. I mean, any time you have a
night where you're going to get an hour of primetime coverage where you get to
talk about what your candidate means -- I mean, they're all big nights: Monday,
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are all big nights.
You know, we will get our speakers
out and they will get out and they will communicate and if -- you know,
whatever speakers we don't get in, they'll be out talking about John McCain in
I come back to the original point
that the country doesn't want politics right now. They want to focus on the
storm. And John McCain doesn't want politics right now; he wants to focus on
the storm. So there will be plenty of time for politics by -- I'm sure by the
time November rolls around everyone will have had their fill of politics, so we'll
get through this and we look forward to the opportunity to talk about what this
convention is about.
RAY SUAREZ: Finally, Adam
Mendelsohn, the news is making the rounds today that the teenage daughter of
Gov. Palin is in her middle trimester of a pregnancy. And in the last 72 hours
it's been talked about a lot that this is someone that John McCain did not know
well. Was he aware that Gov. Palin's daughter was pregnant?
ADAM MENDELSOHN: I'm -- we just got
the news, and so I haven't seen any of the news reports. What I do know is Gov.
Palin and her husband have asked for privacy at this time. I think it's important
people respect that. This is obviously a difficult decision for any family to
go through, but I know they love their daughter very much. I think Gov. Palin
is going to be an amazing vice presidential candidate. She's an executive. She's
a dynamic woman. She's a mother. She was active as a mother. She was a mayor. So
she brings a whole level to the ticket that, you know, we haven't had.
And, you know, as we sit here, we're
at a Republican convention where the Republicans are about to nominate a vice
president -- a woman vice presidential candidate, so it's historic and I know
the party is very energized by this. So I look forward to the American public
getting to know her better, and the McCain campaign getting out and talking
about what she's going to do for this country.
RAY SUAREZ: Adam Mendelsohn, thanks
for joining us today.
ADAM MENDELSOHN: Thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: And thanks to all of
you who've taken time to submit questions online. We'll have more interviews
all this week, so be sure to visit our Web site at pbs.org/newshour to ask your
questions and find out more about our guests. Thanks for watching.