Why on earth is George W. Bush speaking to the Republican convention tonight? When Hurricane Gustav prompted John McCain to cancel the opening night festivities in St. Paul, it seemed that he’d engineered an enviable political maneuver: coming up with a justifiable excuse to keep the deeply unpopular president – to whom Democrats are frantically trying to link McCain – away from his convention.
Even Republicans happily admitted to being relieved that Bush wouldn’t be participating.
"It’s a good thing," Dick Zimmer, the former New Jersey congressman who is mounting an uphill battle against Senator Frank Lautenberg, told the Los Angeles Times. “The first thing I was asked when I won the primary was whether I planned to ask President Bush to come to New Jersey to campaign for me. The answer was no.”
Now that Gustav has passed through Louisiana much less eventfully than feared, McCain has three nights in which to stage a traditional convention – with the truncated schedule providing him with an unusual opportunity to plug in only the speakers he most wants to showcase. And yet, the campaign has now announced that tonight’s session will include President Bush.
Granted, Bush will be speaking via satellite from the White House. Perhaps his remarks will focus on Gustav and the federal government’s response, and he might not even be appearing in the high visibility nine and ten o’clock hours. Maybe this represents the McCain campaign’s effort to have it both ways – to make it appear that they are honoring their party’s president without making him too central a figure, as would have been the case had Monday night gone according to the original plan.
But there’s a school of thought that in 2008, any Bush is too much Bush, at least as far as the Republican presidential candidate is concerned. McCain had a chance to make this a Bush-free convention, but now it won’t be.