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Experts Mull Historical Context of GOP’s Convention Postponement

The Republican Committee decided to delay convention events on Monday due to Hurricane Gustav -- a first in party convention history. Historians discuss the decision and its political significance in the context of past conventions.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Thanks, Gwen.

    With me for that are our presidential historians, Richard Norton Smith, scholar in residence at George Mason University, and Peniel Joseph, professor history and African-American studies at Brandeis University.

    And, Richard, we have a quieting down, an emptying out convention floor, instead of one filling up in anticipation of seeing the president. Has anything like this ever happened before?

  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University:

    In a word, no.

    I thought someone this week would be brief, you know. No, this is unprecedented.

    But, you know, Andy had a point when he was talking earlier. There are going to be some people who won't say it in front of a camera, but who privately see this as not entirely a cause for despondency, because the fewer people out there who see the president and the vice president this evening, the better it may be for the people in here.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, one thing the 2008 GOP has with parties past on both sides over the long history of conventions is deciding what to do with past leaders or incumbent leaders as the party leans forward to the next election at a convention.

  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH:

    Well, you know, first of all, to be fair, there's a poll today that says 71 percent of these delegates approve of President Bush's performance. That's just that they're not necessarily representative of the electorate at large.

    I'll give an example. You can't get much more radioactive than Richard Nixon following his resignation from office in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Two years later, he continued to cast a long shadow over the Ford White House and the Ford campaign against Jimmy Carter.

    There was a press conference in October of '76. A reporter stood up and said, "Mr. President," to Gerald Ford, "twice in this press conference you've referred to 'your predecessor.' Once you've referred to 'Lyndon Johnson's successor.' Are you deliberately trying to avoid saying Richard Nixon's name?" Ford said, "Yes."

    That said it all. Richard Nixon never did, in fact, appear at another Republican convention. And it made news four years ago when his name was actually uttered from the podium by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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