In their euphoria over the prospect of Republican delegates spending their cash in destitute New York, the Governor and the Mayor can hardly be blamed for suggesting that the state’s largely Democratic voters will look more kindly on the President in 2004. Certainly they should welcome George W. Bush, and happily house and feed his well-heeled supporters. But let’s hope that Mr. Bush won’t be too disappointed when he loses New York again anyway.
If he and his adviser, Karl Rove, chose to locate their party convention here to win the state’s electoral votes, they probably should have picked New Orleans. (Maybe they worried about bad juju, recalling that the ill-fated Bush père held his first nominating convention there. In the late evenings, it was delightful to watch Pat Robertson delegates stagger along Bourbon Street from saloon to saloon, gripping their giant go-cups.)
In aspiring host cities and states there is a natural tendency to exaggerate the influence that conventions have on electoral outcomes -that is, to pander to the people with the fat checkbooks. The notion seems to be that the impressionable natives, their pockets filled with tips and their minds bedazzled with spectacle, will cast their votes accordingly.
An editorial in the plucky New York Post summed up this viewpoint admirably. The G.O.P. choice “sends a message that New York-which has elected Republicans to both the statehouse and City Hall in three consecutive elections-is no longer captive Democratic territory.” The Mayor was more discreet, but he too got into the booster spirit. “There’s great opportunity for the Republicans here,” said Mr. Bloomberg.
It’s sad to realize how disappointed they are all likely to be when New Yorkers follow their usual voting habits. But then, neither party has had much luck in winning states where their conventions took place, unless those states were already inclined to support their ticket. In 1988, the Democrats held their desultory proceedings in Atlanta. That didn’t convince many Georgians (or many people elsewhere) to vote for Michael Dukakis. In 1996, the Republicans met in San Diego, just before five million California voters helped Bill Clinton thump Bob Dole.
When the Republicans announced that they would hold their 2000 convention in Philadelphia, the party chairman handed the Democratic mayor an elephant tie, which he promptly tied round his neck. He didn’t say that the Republicans would win his city and state if they convened in Philly, but he might have crossed his fingers and said so, if that was what the Republicans demanded.
Mr. Rove’s compassionate conservatives staged an upbeat, multicultural summer spectacular in the City of Brotherly Love, hiding Tom DeLay, Dick Armey and Trent Lott in a storage area. With two Republican Senators and a Republican governor, Pennsylvania was supposed to be contested territory in a region otherwise hostile to the G.O.P. Presidential candidate.
That November, Jesse Jackson and Ed Rendell-the same friendly guy who put on that pachyderm neckwear-turned out an unusually large Democratic cohort that rejected Mr. Bush and delivered the state comfortably to Al Gore.
It’s true that Republicans hold high office here, but they bear little resemblance to the figures who dominate the national party. Mr. Bloomberg is obviously what conservatives call a RINO (Republican in name only). And what makes Mr. Pataki more than a nominal Republican? Not his pro-choice views or his endorsement of the gay-rights bill; not his budget-busting deals with the teachers’ and hospital-workers’ unions; not his famous environmental sensitivity. Between the Governor and the Mayor, it’s hard to choose the better Democrat.
Still, the “boy genius,” as the President is known to call his political adviser, has ample reasons to schedule his party in New York. Mr. Rove rightly assumes that the city’s tabloid press corps and the TV networks headquartered here will all celebrate the G.O.P. with obsequious coverage. He can picture the continuous replay of that video moment at Ground Zero when Mr. Bush’s foundering Presidency suddenly turned upward. He probably imagines the Republican Mayor and the Republican Governor-and perhaps a Republican Senate candidate such as Rudolph Giuliani-leading a strong challenge that will divert Democratic resources from battleground states.
Choosing New York means that Mr. Rove intends to pursue the “national security” strategy that served his party so well in the midterm elections. He will continue to exploit the memory of Sept. 11, as any politician would be expected to do. But that approach has its risks. The conclusions of the independent commission appointed to investigate the terrorist attack may be deeply unflattering to the Bush administration, despite White House efforts to bury the subject. And the leaders of the gang responsible for that atrocity may still be at large two years from now.
Perhaps Democrats should plan to decorate the neighborhood around Madison Square Garden with posters of that bearded Islamist gangster, with a phrase the President may remember: “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”