McCain isn’t generally a great speaker, and he was slow to get going tonight, but he ended strong, with a recount not just of the heroic portion of his captivity, but of when he was broken and ashamed, with nothing to fall back on but the counsel of one of his fellow soldiers, and the love of his country. His Churchilian rallying cry at the end of the speech brought the house down. It was delivered with a level of conviction that few others could muster, because he’s lived it. “Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We’re Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.”
ST. PAUL — Less than a year ago, Rudy Giuliani was leading in national polls for the Republican presidential nomination, but last night, he was making the case for the man who was in a distant third place at the time — John McCain.
When we last saw Giuliani on the national scene, his supposed “firewall” in Florida had collapsed, forcing him to abandon his once promising run for the White House. But tonight, he brought the house down with a prosecutorial dissection of Barack Obama’s unreadiness to be president by contrasting his lack of record with the experience of McCain.
Liberated from the burden of trying to convince reluctant conservatives to get behind his candidacy, Giuliani was at his best, using mockery to expose Obama’s vulnerabilities.
“He worked as a community organizer,” Giuliani said to chuckles, “and immersed himself in Chicago machine politics. Then he ran for the state legislature — where nearly 130 times he was unable to make a decision yes or no. He simply voted ‘present.’ As Mayor of New York City, I never got a chance to vote ‘present.’ And you know, when you’re President of the United States, you can’t just vote ‘present.’ You must make decisions.”
He said, “Barack Obama has never led anything,” adding for effect, “Nothing. Nada.”
He also riffed off of Obama’s favorite slogans by noting that “[c]hange is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy.”
The parade also featured a several of this year’s other also-rans, with Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney preceding Giuliani on stage.
Huckabee and Romney had different tasks. While Giuliani is unlikely to seek the presidency again given that this was the best shot he had at the Republican nomination, Huckabee and Romney are likely to extend their bitter rivalry into the next open election cycle.
If he’s to have any appeal beyond the strong support he enjoys from the evangelical base, Huckabee will have to come across as more mainstream and win over skeptical economic and national security conservatives, which will not be an easy task.
He picked up where he left off in the primaries, in which he appealed to blue collar workers, by speaking of families struggling to pay gas prices and keep their homes and his own working class upbringing.
In a nod to limited government conservatives, Huckabee said that, “John McCain doesn’t want the kind of change that allows the government to reach deeper into your paycheck and pick your doctor, your child’s school, or even the kind of car you drive or how much you inflate the tires.”
He also flashed his sense of humor, saying that Sarah Palin, “got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska than Joe Biden got running for President of the United States.”
During his pugnacious speech, Romney declared, “We need change all right — change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington!” He blasted “timid, liberal empty gestures” with regard to Russia and China and jibed, “I have one more recommendation for energy conservation — let’s keep Al Gore’s private jet on the ground.”
But his speech was also a continuation of his case in the primaries that he was the candidate who best represented the three-legged stool of social, economic, and national security conservatives.
“America cannot long lead the family of nations if we fail the family here at home,” he said.
Speaking as a successful businessman, he said that, “America is strong because of the ingenuity and entrepreneurship and hard work of the American people.”
He also blasted liberals for failing to recognize “the threat from radical, violent Jihad.”
Romney will have a lot going for him the next time around. He’ll begin with much stronger name recognition, have more years of distance from his numerous policy flip flops, and he’ll benefit from the Republican tendency to nominate the candidate whose turn it is.
But if the reaction to last night’s speeches inside the Xcel Energy Center is any indication, both Huckabee and Romney will have their work cut out for them the next time around. It seems that the Republican Party has found a favorite daughter in their newly minted vice-presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Interesting for him to call the Supreme Court liberal, focusing on the Gitmo decision, especially given the Heller decision.
ST. PAUL — Last week in Denver, Democrats bet that dissatisfaction with President Bush is so great, that merely tying his policies to John McCain will be enough to win back the White House come November. They didn’t bother making much of a case for why Barack Obama, specifically, should be president.
Last night, Republicans kicked off their convention in earnest, with speeches by Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman that argued that accomplishments and life experiences are crucial preparation for becoming president, and McCain has them in spades.
Thompson, showing more fire than he ever did as a presidential candidate, played two roles — the narrator of McCain’s life story, and an attack dog with his sights set on Obama.
The former Tennessee Senator framed McCain’s biography as a test of his character, portraying him as a man who always made the difficult choice, bound by honor and his love of country.
After McCain escaped death in a fire on the deck of the USS Forrestal that killed 134 of his fellow crew members, Thompson recounted, he could have returned home, but volunteered to fly missions for another ship that was undermanned because it had already lost so many men in combat. After McCain was shot down with broken bones and beaten by an angry mob, he had the chance to trade medical treatment for information, but he refused, as he did when he was offered early release.
During two years of solitary confinement, McCain was stuck in a hot North Vietnamese prison cell and could only see the outside world through a crack in the door.
“We hear a lot of talk about hope,” Thompson said in a clear reference to Obama. “John McCain knows about hope. That’s all he had to survive on.”
This was one of several times in which Thompson contrasted Obama’s words with McCain’s deeds.
After describing McCain’s politically risky support for the surge in Iraq as well as his opposition to President Reagan’s decision to send U.S. Marines into Lebanon in 1983, Thompson said, “My friends … that is character you can believe in.”
And while Obama has made it a point to argue that his presidency would improve America’s reputation abroad, Thompson said of McCain, “The respect he is given around the world is not because of a teleprompter speech designed to appeal to American critics abroad, but because of decades of clearly demonstrated character and statesmanship.”
After Thompson’s speech delivered a lot of red meat to the partisan crowd, Sen. Joe Lieberman, who just eight years ago was the Democratic Party’s nominee for vice president, praised McCain as somebody who genuinely reached across party lines, something that Obama likes to talk about.
“Both presidential candidates this year talk about changing the culture of Washington, about breaking through the partisan gridlock and special interests that are poisoning our politics,” Lieberman said. “But only one of them has actually done it…. And that leader is John McCain.”
In his most pointed criticism of this year’s Democratic nominee, he made the central argument for McCain.
“Sen. Obama is a gifted and eloquent young man who can do great things for our country in the years ahead,” Lieberman said. “But eloquence is no substitute for a record — not in these tough times.”
Lieberman also fought back against attempts to tie McCain to President Bush.
“My Democratic friends know all about John’s record of independence and accomplishment,” he said. “Maybe that’s why some of them are spending so much time and so much money trying to convince voters that John McCain is someone else. I’m here, as a Democrat myself, to tell you: Don’t be fooled. God only made one John McCain, and he is his own man.”
With polls showing that significantly more Americans would vote for a generic Democrat over a generic Republican, the campaign strategies for each party’s nominee are now becoming clear.
If last week’s convention did anything (the attacks on Bush’s policies, the populist economic rhetoric, the Clinton emphasis on party unity), it helped make Obama into a generic Democrat, and his recent bump in the polls reflects that. This week, Republicans will present McCain as a man with a life story so compelling, and a record of bipartisanship so extensive, that he transcends any party label.
Philip Klein is a reporter for The American Spectator.
Clearly, not a red meat speech for the audience here, but for swing voters watching at home, it’s a strong statement to have the former Democratic VP nominee vouch for McCain as a reformer who can shake up Washington, and to push back against the “McCain is four more years of Bush” attack Democrats unleashed last night.
The speech was basically divided into two parts– Fred the narrator and Fred the attack dog. Thompson told McCain’s moving story quite well from his days in the military to fighting earmarks in the Senate and standing up for the surge. A key line was when he said that being a POW “doesn’t qualify somebody to be president. But it does reveal character.” All throughout, he contrasted Obama as a talker and McCain as somebody who has actually had his character and courage tested throughout his life. He said “we’ve heard a lot of hope in this campaign, but John McCain knows hope, because hope is all he had.” He also said, “That is character you can believe in.” His point was also pretty clear when he said that with McCain, you don’t have to ask, “Who is this man? And can we trust this man with the presidency?” There were also times when he twisted the knife deeper, saying that McCain didn’t have to make a “teleprompter speech attempted to appeal to those abroad” and that Obama is only making history as “the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee ever to run for president.” The speech will also be remembered for its defense of Sarah Palin, and criticism of the liberal media for going after her and her family — an especially big hit with the crowd. I wonder if all of the lines directed at Obama will detract from his telling of McCain’s life story.
It was an interesting choice to bring Laura Bush up to make the case for the Bush record, which will probably be more forgiving than if President Bush did so himself. Bush’s speech itself — via satellite, behind the Presidential lectern at the White House, will be of much less use for Democrats in attack ads than if he delivered it within the convention hall itself. One thing that stood out for me was Bush’s line (paraphrasing) that, “If the Hanoi Hilton couldn’t break McCain’s resolve to do what’s best for the country — the angry left never will.” This seemed like a clear attempt to reassure conservatives who are skittish about McCain because of his sometimes cozy relationship with liberals.
I’m on a conference call organized the RNC about the convention. No news on what is going to happen beyond today in terms of the speaking schedule. RNC Chairman Mike Duncan said they were continuing to monitor the situation and make “day by day assessments.”
But McCain campaign manager Rick Davis did say that Sarah Palin arrived in town last night and was working on her speech, and was “confident” she would deliver it, and that, at this point, there are no contigency plans for McCain to accept the nomination anywhere else but St. Paul./
Davis described a number of plans Republicans have to help those affected in the Gulf states:
— On Wednesday morning, they’re asking for volunteers to gather at the Minneapolis Convention Center to assemble “comfort packages” of toilietries and snacks, with help from Target and FedEx.
— There will be a fundraising drive, with a list of charities suggested by governors in the affected states.
— Laura Bush will introduce a video featuring the affected governors asking for help and Cindy McCain will ask delegates for their support in a speech that will not be “over-politicized.”