Rethinking the Gustav effect--plus, meet the delegate!

MINNEAPOLIS--There’s a weird lack of anticipatory buzz at the Minneapolis Convention Center, where RNC delegates (and the press) are currently picking up their convention credentials. Chalk it up to a few factors: it's a Sunday morning; it's Labor Day weekend; the convention’s actually in another city, ten miles away. And most important, thanks to Hurricane Gustav, nobody actually knows what form the convention is going to take. 

Last night, I cast the Gustav Effect as problematic for John McCain. But now I'm not so sure. The best line of attack for Barack Obama and his surrogates is to argue, again and again, that McCain's election would basically represent a third Bush term. McCain, meanwhile, needs to put as much distance between himself and Bush as he can without going so far that he alienates the Republican base. And Gustav could actually help him here, since it's already been announced that neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney will actually be showing up in St. Paul--which automatically creates a sense of distance between McCain and the current administration. To put it differently, there won't be another hug.


A few minutes ago, I asked South Carolina delegate Cyndi Marsteller what impact she thought Gustav would have on the proceedings. I prefaced my question with a lengthy disclaimer (i.e., It's callous to talk about the poltiical impact of something that's going to ruin countless lives, but...), but Marsteller refused (in a very friendly, gracious way) to take the bait.  "I think any event that's detrimental to the nation is detrimental to the Republican Party," she said. "I think President Bush's first obligation is to the people of this country, and in this case the people of New Orleans, and it'd be inappropriate for him to come here. His commitment is to the U.S. nation; he's doing exactly what he should be doing."

"As a delegate," she continued, "I only wish--and I think I'm speaking almost collectively--that each of us could do something concrete for the people who are about to suffer catastrophic loss. And I say that specifically as a delegate from South Carolina who lived through 1989, and Hurricane Hugo right in my backyard--bridges down, water everywhere destruction. Our thoughts and prayers and I wish our actions could be with the people who are about to be affected.”

Well, how about that? After all, there’s been talk of canceling the convention altogether, or truncating it, or recasting it as a fundraiser for Gustav’s victims. When I mentioned that to Marsteller, she didn’t rule out the latter option—but she also wasn’t too keen on the first two. “I think that we're all here,” she replied. “Our plane reservations are here; we’re set in a timeframe that can’t be changed. That’s the challenge for us, to see and think through how we can best be utilized. I don’t think celebration is the tenor of where any of us is. We’re all just thinking through what is the best way to be of service to the people that are about to experience great loss.”

One final note: in closing, Marsteller said I could identify her as a former county chairman of the Charleston GOP, or as a former vice-chariman of the state GOP, or as the father of three daughters. Feeling the bipartisan groove, I mentioned that I had a young daughter myself. “Isn’t it great?” she replied. “Isn’t it a surprisingly wonderful thing?” After agreeing, I added that I’d found the shots of Barack Obama and his daughters especially affecting on the DNC’s final night—at which point Marsteller closed with an anti-abortion pitch. “You feel it, yeah,” she said. “And let me tell you something. Now, just take this a step further. You think about how you felt when you saw a picture of your precious daughter on the sonogram, you know what I’m saying?” Can I get an amen, Sarah Palin?

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