If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard from me, it’s because I just walked back to the hotel from Madison Square Garden. For some reason — I suspect for security considerations — no unsecured wireless networks were available from my seat at the Garden, and I wasn’t about to head back to a television in Bloggers Corner for the President’s speech.
I’m getting a bite to eat and then I’ll review my voice notes and post my thoughts on the main events tonight.
I met Chris Suellentrop as we both came through security checkpoints together on Monday and were both held up by colleagues having difficulty with the metal detectors. That’s how I know Chris actually attended the Republican convention; he’s a nice guy and chatted us up for a few minutes while we waited. Because if I had to rely on his reporting to confirm his attendance, I’d have to assume him to be a no-show.
In Slate today, Chris writes about a lack of enthusiasm among Republican delegates that has managed to escape my notice:
One of the most striking things about watching the Republican National Convention from inside Madison Square Garden has been the lack of enthusiasm among the delegates on the floor. When they formally, and unanimously, nominated George W. Bush as their party’s presidential nominee Wednesday at the conclusion of the roll call of the states, the delegates failed to muster much applause for their action. “We can do better than that,” complained Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele from the podium. “Come on now, bring it on for the president.” The delegates dutifully applauded some more, but they still weren’t very loud, and Steele still seemed disappointed.
From this experience, Suellentrop builds an entire analysis that the GOP has no real enthusiasm for George Bush and that the only thing holding this convention together is a dislike of John Kerry that outweighs this supposed ennui for Bush. Suellentrop’s article shows the inherent problems of forming an opinion based on one data point.
First, I can tell you from being down here and sitting among the delegates and their alternates for two evenings that their enthusiasm borders on fanaticism. They stomp, scream, shout, wave signs, dance, and in all possible ways remind me of multi-level marketing motivational meetings. The notion that a poor response for a nomination during a second-tier timeframe of the convention indicates an erosion of support underscores a certain disconnection from reality that Slate often reflects.
Whenever a keynote speaker delivers a speech, the delegates remain focused and enthusiastic. During the lesser events — and the mechanics of the nomination itself definitely qualifies, since Bush ran unopposed for the spot — delegates do what they do at almost every other moment. They network, they schmooze, they run into old friends and exchange stories from the political wars. All due respect to Lt. Governor Steele, but saying “Aye” to an unopposed motion does not take a lot of effort or attention.
I took the night off from Madison Square Garden last night, but I’d guess that Suellentrop has taken most of the convention off based on this analysis. Slate readers should know that the Republican delegates have more than enough enthusiasm to make up for Suellentrop’s lack of attention.
Former Congressman and Republican activist J. C. Watts visited with a few of us at Bloggers Corner. After his appearance on Hardball along with Zell Miller last night, we anticipated speaking to him about the exchange between Miller and host Chris Matthews, which we eventually discussed. However, Watts spoke at length on a number of issues, especially Republican outreach to black communities. In fact, the interview went into such depth that I think a transcript may run too long. I’ll recap and quote where appropriate.
We started off discussing GOPAC, the Republican political-action committee dedicated to promoting grassroots growth for the GOP. Watts currently serves as its chairman, and he talked about how the 1994 Republican victory in capturing the House may have made the GOP too “fat and sassy” about its majority. He talked about the need to get away from the idea that Republicans (or anyone) can just throw a bunch of money around the last three weeks before the election and expect to win anything, let alone maintain a majority.
In fact, for the most part Watts focused on grass-roots growth, both of voters and candidates. Watts recently put together multimedia traning packages for recruitment of both. The former college quarterback and star member of the GOP House contingent seems perfectly at ease working behind the scenes to work at party-building, something that Republicans have long needed. Before we sat down, Watts was on the telephone telling someone that he was perfectly happy out of the limelight and risking capital in the market.
In regards to Republican outreach to the black community, Watts expressed both frustration and optimism. As a part-time preacher himself, he noted that Republicans and African-Americans share a lot of the same values, and yet do not seem to connect on an emotional level. Some of that can be chalked up to a lack of communication, Watts told us. Democrats, he explained, talk a lot about the concerns of the black community but largely only accomplish symbolic acts. Republicans deliver results but either fail completely to communicate them or forget to cover the symbolic gestures.
Watts holds out the most hope for the 18-45 demographic, the people who are less beholden to public figures like Jesse Jackson. He also talked about the myth of a monolithic black opinion set. “Republicans need to understand that when it comes to the black community, most black people don’t think alike. Most black people just vote alike.”
I asked Watts about drafting Alan Keyes from Maryland to run against Barack Obama in Illinois and whether he thought that would damage Republican credibility in Illinois and elsewhere. Keyes’ statements during the convention to the media regarding Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter (“selfish hedonist”) and his odd and sudden embrace of slavery reparations in the form of income-tax waivers has many people shaking their heads here in New York, and a number of lower-level campaign officials and media analysts sympathetic to the GOP remarking off the record to me that the GOP should have left the ballot open rather than run Keyes.
Watts would not take the bait, and even insisted that if Keyes asked, Watts would campaign for him. “We both wear the same jersey,” he told us. “If Alan and Barack actually have a debate, I’d love to have the popcorn concession.” He thinks that there is a difference between Keyes and Hillary Clinton’s runs for the Senate but conceded that they were technical and likely would not make much difference to the voters in Illinois. “It’s almost like John Kerry trying to explain his Senate voting record,” he said. “If he has to explain, he loses.”
When we brought up Zell Miller, Watts’ face lit up with delight. “That’s about as good as it gets,” he replied. He’s worked with Chris Matthews before, and he felt that Matthews had no hidden agenda. However, he noted that Matthews worked for Tip O’Neill as a speechwriter and that Matthews knows the difference between hyperbole and literal statements, and that it was a bit hypocritical to press Miller on “spitballs”. Watts also happened to be around for the Frank Luntz focus group on Miller’s effect on independents, and eleven of the eighteen independents in the group answered that they were more likely to vote for Bush as a result of the speech.
Watts gave us a lot more in this interview than we expected, and his personal charm and intellectual flexibility made me wonder why the GOP has allowed this asset to ride the bench for so long. Let’s get J.C. back in the game.
While Bloggers Corner stayed relatively quiet this morning, a few people have come by to take advantage of the open chairs here. One of them was Congressman Steve Pearce of New Mexico’s 2nd District, who took a few minutes to speak with me today.
CQ: Good morning, Congressman. Which district do you represent?
SP: New Mexico’s 2nd District, the southern district of New Mexico, about 70,000 square miles. It takes about nine hours to drive across it.
CQ: What do you think about the chances of Bush taking New Mexico this time around?
SP: Chances are very good. Last time we lost by 366 votes, but there was an unprecedented snowstorm on Election Day, and the snowstorm occurred only on the eastern side of the state, where the Republicans are. On the western side of the state, where it’s 25% Republican, they didn’t have any snow. We lost 10,000 votes for the President [from the storm] and we lost the state by 366 votes. New Mexico will be hard but I think we’ll win it for the President. My district will come out very strong for the President.
CQ: I was very surprised that Bill Richardson did not get the nod for Senator Kerry’s running mate this year. It seems to me that Richardson would have been tailor-made for it. What issues do you think kept Richardson off the ticket?
SP: There are people in the Democrat party that say that Richardson was never in contention, that he was the one who placed his name up. There are things that he would have to explain. He hired Monica Lewinsky. That does not sell well in conservative America. He took her out of the White House … He was in charge of DoE when we lost 50 years worth of secrets to the Communist Chinese and that’s an issue that is still needs deeper explaining. It has not been resolved. The current problems in security are the ones we saw with Los Alamos. I think there are flaws there that would have really penalized the national ticket.
CQ: You’re running again for Congress?
SP: I’m in Congress and running for re-election, yes.
CQ: How’s your district?
SP: 34% Republican. It’s okay. The southern district always has hard races, I’ll always have hard races. [Laughs]
CQ: Do you think a heavy turnout in your district will help yourself and Bush?
SP: It will. I get very good support from Democrats across the state. People just like Zell Miller, people who feel like the party is drifting way far left. They’re concerned about the life issues, concerned about the marriage issues that the Democratic Party is really pushing right now. They’re going to stay Democrats, but they’re going to throw that party back to the middle of the spectrum.
CQ: Do you read blogs at all, Congressman?
SP: Occasionally. I don’t get much of a chance to do anything except sit in meetings, but when I get on the web, I take a look to see what people are saying.
CQ: If you had one piece of advice for the bloggers coming out of this convention — obviously talking about Republican-leaning bloggers — what would that advice be? What do you think we should be focusing on in the next 60 days?
SP: We’ve got to focus on getting our turnout. The nation is extremely divided, about 46% on either side. Maybe 8%, 6% undecided, and the election will be decided by who shows up. We are conservatives, and we will stay home more quickly than our friends across the aisle. Our friends on the other side will vote for their candidate no matter what the flaws are, and Republicans will say, “I like him on 90% of the [issues] but not on 10%, I’m just going to stay home.” It hurts us badly. I’m not an enemy of someone who I agree with 75% of the time. We overlook the differences and we work together, and that would be my advice to the conservatives in America. We need to understand that this election will determine the nation[‘s direction] for the next 20 years.
While we at Bloggers Corner have been congratulating ourselves on being the New Media here at the convention, this morning I got an opportunity to meet the really new media. Two young journalists for the New York Daily News took a break at Bloggers Corner this morning: Kibuchi Banfield, 17 years old, and Marie Ponsot, 11 years old. The Daily News credentialed them to do some free-lance reporting from the convention, and their work appeared in today’s edition (second item):
We think if the state is offering the services, it should be responsible for getting residents enrolled. She was talking like people are totally independent from the federal government.
Plus, schools are busy enough trying to meet testing standards without doing extra work. Maybe older teens can help younger kids get health insurance through a community service project. But an uninsured child under the age of 5 can’t be responsible for himself.
They carried themselves rather professionally, and even knew about blogs, which puts them above most of their colleagues. Last I saw of them, they were buttonholing politicians for interviews on Radio Row and doing a pretty good job of it.
In fact, what the heck am I doing giving this much attention to my competition?
UPDATE: Hey, the kids got an Instalanche!
I had an opportunity to meet with a member of the Minnesota delegation to the Republican convention last night, Kimani Jefferson, who represents the Anoka area. Kimani spoke for a few minutes with me regarding his transformation from a moderate Democrat to a 9/11 convert to the new national-security-based conservatism, and his enthusiasm for George Bush in 2004. Kimani is a former military officer who served aboard USS LaSalle, based in Italy, after graduating from the Air Force Academy in 1998.
CQ: You’ve gone through this entire [delegate selection] process, which takes quite a bit of effort. What’s your motivation for doing that?
KJ: My daughter, more than anything else. My daughter is four, and I have another child on the way, November 12th. And I want the Constitution to mean something when she grows up.
CQ: What are your big issues here at the convention?
KJ: My big issue, number one, is national security. Because without national security, it doesn’t matter how the economy goes or anything else. … We should judges on the bench that take a strict constructionist view of the Constitution.
CQ: Which justice on the Supreme Court do you feel embodies that most?
KJ: Antonin Scalia.
CQ: Since you appear to be very committed to this [political] process, do you plan on running for office in Minnesota at the state or federal level?
KJ: Perhaps. It depends on how things go. I’ve only been in Minnesota for three years and in Coon Rapids for one year, and I don’t quite know the community. There may come a point where I feel comfortable enough in the community to feel that I am worthy of representing it.
CQ: How do you plan to extend your reach in the community in the meantime?
KJ: Right now, I’m the Anoka County Co-Chair for the Bush/Cheney campaign, the Metro chapter Chair of the Young Republicans. I’m trying to stay really active. I’m trying to build the teenage community of the Young Republicans, they’ve been really active in this campaign, and they’re excited. I think if we can get kids that age active in the process, it will a good seeding for the future. Those are the things that are important to me.
Kimani has a great presence and enthusiasm for his work here at the convention as well as an easygoing, friendly personality. His obvious delight at participating in this convention is infectious, and we wound up chatting for a good while afterwards. He spoke about his brother-in-law who turned his life around after being in prison and his desire to build faith-based initiatives to help people like his brother-in-law rejoin society.
Kimani bears watching in the next few years. I think Minnesotans will be hearing from him as soon as he decides he wants to be heard.
I don’t have a lot to add to what I’ve already written, but I do have a few thoughts about the tandem of firebrand Zell Miller and the more stoic surgery of Dick Cheney. I’ve read some who think that the pairing was deliberate — that the RNC knew how Zell would go after the Democrats and John Kerry, and that the contrast between Miller (who isn’t running for anything) and Cheney would emphasize Cheney’s reasonableness. It’s the kind of counterpoint that could take the edge off of Cheney’s unwarranted image as a warmonger.
Well, maybe. As Deacon at Power Line says, it may well be that the Republicans attempted to play good cop/bad cop. Unfortunately, if they did, they may have done too good a job, as both men made excellent points in their speeches that their wildly divergent styles will obscure. Miller was especially effective when talking about Kerry’s record on voting against all sorts of military systems that we’ve used effectively in the field. If he had used the money line as more of a joke than an angry shout — “With what … spitballs?” — it would have been devastating. As it is, it’s damaging but the tone may have already turned off the centrists. My prediction is that Miller’s speech will read better with swing voters than it played on TV tonight. I liked Miller’s speech and agreed with every word, but we shouldn’t pretend it will change a lot of minds.
Cheney’s problem was that his delivery was so deliberate that he never seemed to connect personally with the camera or with the crowd. I’ve seen Cheney do better. I don’t think it was a bad speech at all, or even a bad delivery; it just felt a little flat, and the best parts failed to get punched up. Compare it with John McCain, for instance. He’s known for his mediocre style on the stump, but on Monday he gave one of the best speeches of his career. I wanted to see Cheney give us some passion — maybe not on a Zell Miller scale, but at least on a McCain scale. I didn’t see that.
I think Miller’s speech will eventually play well enough, and Cheney didn’t do any damage. But Bush will need to tell us why we need him as President for the next four years, using hope instead of anger and showing more passion than Cheney did tonight.
UPDATE: Cassandra at I Love Jet Noise disagrees with me about Cheney, and has a point-by-point analysis of his speech. It’s worth reading. I don’t disagree with the assertion that the content of the speech wasn’t excellent, but I think I wanted to see a little more passion for the subject from the man who wants (we assume) to get a majority of Americans to vote him back into the vice-presidency.
I mentioned a few days ago that both John and I were interviewed by the hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, for a story about Bloggers Corner from a local perspective. Sharon Schmickle turns in a fair and balanced look at the intersection of blogging and big-league politics:
It was one thing to watch the cool and sassy Bush twins in television’s lights, cracking scripted jokes and teasing their parents about their days of being “young and irresponsible.”
It was another to see 22-year-old Jenna and Barbara through Captain Ed’s analytical filter: “The Bush twins are — as they said in their speech — young, irrepressible, and a little immature. Personally, I found their humor a little charming, if overdone. I noticed (former New York Mayor) Rudy Giuliani laughing his butt off at the Sex And The City joke.” …
Here’s Hinderaker’s summary of his first day: “This has been one of the longer days in recent memory, beginning with a blogger breakfast at 8:00. The day included technical problems with our internet connections; our first video post; interviews with a number of luminaries … most memorably, recent Miss America Erika Herald [sic]; a National Review party … finally, an evening spent inside the hall watching the first night of the convention. I just got back to my hotel a few minutes ago, and will wait until morning to post detailed impressions of the speeches.”
In reading Schmickle’s article, it’s apparent that she took quite a bit of time to read through both of our blogs, and excerpted a fairly representative sampling of our work. Take a read through it and see what you think.
10:20 Lynne Cheney gives the introduction for the Vice President, Dick Cheney. She comes across as sharp, blunt, and likeable. She seems tougher than Laura Bush. In an imperfect comparison, she reminds me stylistically of Katherine Hepburn, while Laura reminds me more of Audrey Hepburn.
10:23 Good reception for the VP, who seems a little amused by it …
10:25 That was Sarah Janisczak [sp] from Minnesota on screen …
10:26 And that was Col. Joe Repya from Eagan, MN, who I will feature in an interview later on tonight ..
10:30 Dick Cheney has a much more mellow speaking style than Miller, obviously. After a great, self-deprecating riff on John Edwards get s a laugh, he follows that up with a good policy speech, this time targeting Edwards a bit more bitingly with tort reform…
10:31 Another disturbance on the floor? I’ll try to get some information tomorrow …
10:33 Here is where Cheney’s calm, rational delivery really works. It cuts through the passions on national security and gives him a Joe Friday kind of credibility. …
10:36 Cheney delivers good news but rather dispassionately, and it’s not holding my interest terribly well. He’s not connecting personally; he’s giving a laundry list of accomplishments, more of a State of the Union speech than inspirational stump work. I’ve seen him better than this…
10:38 In regards the last, perhaps this plays better inside the Garden than outside of it. But I don’t think so, judging from the respectable but not really adulatory reaction he’s getting…
10:43 That’s the Dick Cheney we know — cutting, sarcastic, and funny. He scored big points by reminding John Kerry, who has said that he’d launch strikes after America had been attacked, that we have already been attacked…
10:45 “There is a difference to leading a coalition of many nations than submitting to the objections of a few.”
10:46 Well, that’s new — chants of “Flip-Flop” resound through the hall, and earn another amused look from Cheney …
10:48 “A Senator can be wrong for 20 years without consequence to the nation.” I don’t know if I agree with that — I think that Kerry’s foolish inconsistencies did do some actual damage, and certainly his lack of legislative accomplishement deprived the country of vital input at the highest level …
10:50 More flip-flops …
10:52 “John Kerry sees two Americas. It makes the whole thing mutual. America sees two John Kerrys.” His best line of the speech. Do you think the Democrats will be anxious to trot that theme out any time soon?
10:57 Dick Cheney’s finished up now, and his family has joined him just off the dais. It was a good speech, but nothing much more than a journeyman effort. I’ve heard the President live, on the stump, and even if his tongue trips more often than Cheney’s and other speakers, he has more passion and much less monotone in his delivery than Cheney has in his own. I think the President will do better by comparison. Wait until people start creating conspiracy theories over that.
10:02 Wild applause; I don’t think he expected that. He makes his support for Bush personal. “My family is more important than my party.” Great moment.
10:05 Great story about Wendell Wilkie, especially the epitaph. “Where are such statesmen today?” He’s on fire.
10:07 Wow, he’s tossing bombs at Terry McAuliffe and John Kerry tonight, and his rhetoric has the passion of all his anger. This is powerful stuff, and it sounds like it’s built up over a long period of time…
10:08 “It is the soldier, and not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of speech.” A series of such linkages are very effective.
10:10 “No pair has been wrong more often over a longer period of time than the two Senators from Massachussetts — Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.” Let me tell you this — right now, the Democrats are wishing that the networks had carried Giuliani on Monday and preempted Wednesday’s schedule. Right now he just reviewed the list of weapons systems that Kerry opposed and what they did in combat for the US. He’s going to leave a mark on the Kerry campaign …
10:15 I’ve been waiting to see if Miller can sustain his anger and disgust towards his party’s leadership for an entire half-hour. Only now has he shifted from attacking Democrats to supporting Bush. “I like the fact that he’s the same man on Saturday night as on Sunday morning.”
10:18 “Faint-hearted self-indulgence will put at risk all that we hold dear.” What a great finish. Without a doubt, Miller just delivered the speech of his life at the finish of a long career.
UPDATE: Seeveral of you have e-mailed or commented about Zell’s appearance on Hardball. I’ll keep looking for the transcript. It’s probably not going to be released until tomorrow.