ST. PAUL--Just got back from the press conference where John McCain announced, via video, that the RNC will be radically altered due to Hurricane Gustav. After McCain spoke, both Republican Party Chairman Mike Duncan and McCain campaign manager Rick Davis offered a bit more detail on what would and wouldn’t happen. The scoop, basically, is this: tomorrow, the Republicans will do the bare minimum that they’re procedurally obligated to do to proceed with the convention and McCain’s nomination. This means starting at 3 pm, wrapping by around 5:30 pm, and eschewing partisan rhetoric—or, as McCain put it, “taking off our Republican hats and putting on our American hats.” They'll also be trying to turn the assembled delegates into a fundraising machine for Gustav relief. Right now, the convention's architects are only planning one day in advance, so Tuesday's plans are totally up in the air. Also, it's possible that McCain won't even set foot in Minnesota.
During the Q-and-A afterward, one reporter asked the obvious but awkward question: what are the political ramifications of all this going to be? Davis’s answer: “We really don’t have the luxury of sort of trying to evaluate the politics of this kind of situation. We take it as it is, and right now, we have a horrible storm bearing down on the Gulf. People should be more conscious about that than a political campaign. And I think that’s the way we’re going to let the chips fall.”
“Let the chips fall.” Intentionally or not—and I’m guessing it’s the former--Davis, in that last sentence, hinted at how this could benefit McCain. The way Gustav is playing out, McCain and the Republican elders really didn’t have the option of sticking with their original plans for the convention. Even so, it’s possible that winnowing back the festivities will bolster the McCain Myth, wherein the GOP nominee is a principled risk-taker and noble public servant. (Note, here, that his campaign slogan is “Country First.”)
If that storyline’s going to develop, though, it needs to do so on its own, with only the lightest, most delicate nudges from McCain and his surrogates (e.g., the aforementioned Davis comment). If they came on too strong—if, say, Mitt Romney praises McCain for selflessly focusing on Gustav rather than on the proceedings in St. Paul in a couple of weeks—the McCain camp as a whole could end up looking incredibly cynical.
There are plenty of other scenarios, however. As I’ve already noted, the fact that President Bush and VP Cheney won’t be taking the RNC stage could actually be a blessing for McCain. Or McCain could appear early and often in Louisiana, thereby drawing a beneficial contrast between himself and the president, whose response to Katrina he’s previously criticized, and thereby reminding people of his occasional unwillingness to break with his party. Or coverage of Gustav could remind the nation of how horribly Bush & Co. botched Katrina, thereby making the public as a whole more amenable to the idea of regime change at home. Or the fact that the GOP couldn’t generate its own convention bump could guarantee Barack Obama a win in November.
And I'm sure there are about 1000 other possibilities. Readers, answer the question Rick Davis wouldn’t: how do you see this playing out?