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Republican Convention: Dan Balz

Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 1, 2004; 1:00 PM

The 2004 Republican National Convention continues Wednesday with speeches from Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.).

Washington Post Staff Writer Dan Balz took your questions and comments live from the Republican National Convention Wednesday, Sept. 1, at 1 p.m. ET.


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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Alexandria, Va.: How unified does the GOP seem this year? In 2000, the party seemed uneasily unified in its decision to nominate Bush, because of easy name recognition and "electability." Is all that choreographed unity just a charade, or is it real?

Dan Balz: Hello to everyone from New York on day three of the convention. You've peppered my colleague Bob Kaiser with good questions and we have more here to deal with for the next hour. Thanks to everyone for participating.

This is a good question to start with. This party is extraordinarily unified behind the proposition of electing George W. Bush to a second term. There's no doubt that Democrats are just as unified in their determination to defeat him. But as I've been around the country recently, some of it with the president's campaign, it's unmistakable how much affection there is among Republican activists for the president.

Anecdotally, many of us have heard from Republicans who supported Bush in 2000 but today are either still undecided or already certain they will not vote for him in November. But when you look at the polling data, Americans who call themselves Republicans are strongly supporting his reelection.

Four years ago the unity we saw was of a somewhat different sort, which was the unity that comes from being out of power. Certainly Bush and the Bush family had their loyalists, but the affection for the president among the GOP base today goes well beyond what it was four years ago.

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Wilmington, Del.: On the first day of this convention, it became apparent that Bush's re-election is dependent on the linkage of 9/11 and Iraq. There has been a lot of back-and-forth about whether that idea was a lie or misinformation. Well, even if you give the administration the benefit of the doubt, I think it stops being misinformation and becomes a lie when Giuliani and McCain, among others, repeatedly make that connection after the 9/11 commission has categoricaly said that no such relationship existed. Shouldn't this be the biggest issue of this campaign? Shouldn't somebody feel ashamed and guilty when we lose soldiers in Iraq who believe they are carrying the fight to the enemies that attacked us on 9/11? Am I over-reacting, or is this sick feeling in my stomach well-deserved?

Dan Balz: Let me try to deal with this dispassionately. You're right that the goal of Bush's convention is to expand the debate over whether it was right or wrong to go into Iraq, whether Bush had or didn't have a plan for the post-conflict stage of the battle; whether he mishandled key elements of the mission, etc., to a discussion of the threat of terrorism in the world, how the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the country and most important, who is best able to keep the country safe. In other words, Bush's people don't want an election focused just on the question of Iraq but on who has what the voters want going forward, given the threats the country faces.

Given that goal, Giuliani and McCain did two things on Monday night. McCain made about as strong an argument in behalf of Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq as Bush could have hoped for. McCain and particularly Giuliani invoked 9/11 in an effort to redraw the boundaries of the debate in Bush's favor. Neither one said it was necessary to go into Iraq because Saddam was responsible for what happened on 9/11. But they did say that, after 9/11, threats have to be dealt with offensively.

This is obviously a highly charged debate and voters will come to their own decisions about whether the Republicans went to far with their focus on 9/11; whether they were making connections that do not exist; and ultimately whether they feel more comfortable with Bush or Kerry for the next four years.

Sorry for the long answer.

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New York, N.Y.: Are we able to get anyone who served with Mayor Guiliani who can state that "I served with Mayor Guiliani, and when the terrorists struck, the Mayor turned to me and said he's glad George Bush is President"?

Dan Balz: Good question. I hope the New York press corps is working on this.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Dan,

I know everyone who speaks at the RNC gets heavily edited before they go on, so how do you explain Jenna & Barbara's strange diatribe last night? It sounded like they made it up about 10 minutes before they spoke.

Dan Balz: Several questions about the twins' remarkable convention debut. Everyone does get edited to some extent, although it's always trickier when you're dealing with relatives of the president. I don't know who went over the speech and there were lots of reactions to it, although I suspect a sense of disbelief was common. It did not sound like a speech written by a 40-year-old speechwriter, that's for sure.

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Houston, Tex.: Dan,

Overall I enjoyed Arnold's speech a lot, I just had one problem. He referred to Pres. Bush as making decisions even when they were unpopular, and used the Iraq war as an example. Please correct me if I am wrong, but when Pres. Bush first invaded Iraq the war was very popular among the general population. I seriously doubt Bush would have invaded Iraq in the way he did if it was getting today's poll numbers. That just seems intentionally misleading on Arnold's part.

Dan Balz: I had a similar reaction as I was listening last night, that while the decision to go to war was certainly controversial, public opinion was generally behind the president -- as it almost always is at the start of a conflict. I just checked our polling data and here's what I found:

The Washington Post-ABC News Poll that was finished on March 9, 2003, about a week before the U.S. went to war, found that 59 percent of the country supported military action, 35 percent opposed it. A week after the war started, 72 percent supported it, 26 percent opposed it.

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Portland, Ore.: Despite John McCain's endorsement of George Bush, are there any lingering resentments by McCain Republicans toward Bush? The South Carolina primary comes to my mind when I think of George Bush.

Dan Balz: John McCain's role in the Bush campaign is one of the most fascinating subtexts of this election year. I suspect the bitterness over that South Carolina primary will never fully disappear among the McCain loyalists. Sen. McCain was at the Post for a lunch interview about a week ago and said that whatever anger he felt at the time, he has resolved to move forward, saying America doesn't like sore losers. Fair point.

What's more interesting to many politics watchers is the degree to which McCain has been helping Bush and how much Bush has asked McCain to do this year. McCain occupies a rare position in politics and the Bush campaign is trying to tap some of his appeal to swing voters and people who don't think of themselves as hardcore Republicans or Democrats. Some people think McCain is being a good soldier to prepare for a 2008 presidential campaign. We'll see.

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Rockville, Md.: Are the major networks (NBC, ABC, CBS) giving more live coverage to the RNC convention than they did the DNC's?

Dan Balz: Basically yes. Three hours of coverage. Amazing, isn't it?

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Seattle, Wash.: Hi there,

If Kerry had made the comment about the war on terror not being winnable, and then flip-flopped 24 hours later, the Republicans (and most of the press) would be all over it. And yet, none of the news coverage has made a big deal of this unbelievable flip-flop by Bush. How do you explain that?

Dan Balz: Well, I think most of the coverage has focused on Bush's reversal, so I'd disagree with you on this. I also think the Bush team knew they had to move quickly to clean up the mess the president had created on Monday. There are any number of areas where the president has changed his mind -- the creation of a Department of Homeland Security is one, for example -- and we've tried to note those in the coverage. The Bush team has chosen to make this a principal line of attack against Kerry. Kerry's team has chosen other attacks on Bush.

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Re: Bush Twins: "It did not sound like a speech written by a 40-year-old speechwriter, that's for sure."

No, but it did sound like a speech written by a 40-year old speechwriter trying to write like a 20-year-old.

Dan Balz: I actually thought it sounded like a speech written with strong input from the twins and from their contemporaries. Given the interest we're seeing from all the questions, I hope we find the answer to the question of who wrote it -- if they didn't.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: How can Zell Miller call himself a Democrat, at this point?

Dan Balz: That's a good question for Zell Miller, obviously. Politicians and non-politicians decide both what they call themselves and for whom they vote and it's obviously pretty personal. Sen. Miller says the Democratic Party has abandoned him, and so it's logical to ask why he hasn't joined the Republican Party, but for someone who has spent his life getting elected as a Democrat, that may be too far for him to go. Or it may be that he finds he gets a much bigger megaphone as a Demmocrat for Bush than if he had switched parties and become just another GOP senatr.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: This really isn't a convention question, but since it has come up in the middle of the GOP convention, I thought I would ask about it. There seems to be some concern with the Democrats that Kerry's campaign is off-track, with some personnel changes/additions in the works. If it is off-track, how did it get that way? I am also sure that this news is very pleasing to the GOP, especially while they are front and center with the convention.

Dan Balz: There's no question that there is concern among some Democrats about what's happening in the campaign right now. August was not a great month for the Kerry campaign and I suspect that after the euphoria coming out of their convention, the reality of what has hit is demoralizing to many of them.

The criticism is that they were slow to respond to the Swift Boat ads, and from what I've been told, there was a debate, legitimate debate probably, about whether responding to a relatively tiny ad buy in just a few states would snuff it out or in fact elevate it into an even bigger deal. They choose not to respond initially and in retrospect have paid a price. But I think Sen. Kerry also has suffered by what he said about Iraq at different points in August.

The campaign has brought in some fresh talent, people like Joe Lockhart and Joel Johnson, who played key roles in the Clinton White House, and they're trying to sharpen their message and their response operations.

I'd say one other thing. Kerry went through last fall, when there was lots of criticism of his campaign. Then he shook up his campaign. I'm not sure he'll do that this time, but it's not too late to make a midcourse correction and they seem to be in the process of trying to do that.

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Arlington, Va.: There was a lot of talk coming in to the convention that the GOP was only putting the moderates up on stage, but it sounds like today they are swinging way to the right with (obviously) Cheney, but also among others Santorum, McConnell, and Zell Miller who's more conservative than a lof of Republicans even. Was this always the speakers' list or did they change things in the face of tall the criticism that the speakers didn't really represent the reality of the party?

Dan Balz: There's a significant difference between the two or three featured speeches each night and the other, much shorter, speeches delivered in the hours before the major networks start their broadcasts. It is interesting that the convention has featured speakers the first two nights who either disagree with the party's positions on social issues or, in McCain's case is a genuine maverick. But what's also interesting is that those speakers -- think Rudy -- gave very tough and in many ways conservative speeches on terrorism and security.

Miller is there for the obvious reason that he spoke in Madison Square Garden 12 years ago for Bill Clinton and the Republicans like the contrast and the symbolism. And Cheney obviously has to speak. As for Arnold, he's got star power, beyond his social issue differences with the party.

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Washington, D.C.: Chris Matthews of Hardball asked this question last night and I think it is a good one in comparing conventions -- who at the Democratic Convention gave a speech that matches with any that have been given at the RNC convention? The panelists last night, even Matthews, stated that the speeches so far have been far superior at the RNC convention. Do you agree?

Dan Balz: I guess I'd answer that question this way: the Republicans have delivered a more consistent message on their first two nights of the convention. I thought Bill Clinton gave a very good speech in Boston and the keynote speech by Barack Obama was a terrific speech by an unknown but obviously rising talent. But the Republicans have built their best speeches around the same theme: Bush will keep the country safe.

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Conyers, Ga.: Looking at the Republican's platform paper, I was kind of struck by how much it differed from the style of that of the Democrats-- despite the length, there's no real outline of priorities, and the whole thing is rather short on specifics. Not that the Democrats' was all that informative, but compared to what the Republicans are calling a platform-- basically just a list of all the things George Bush has done that they like and general platitudes that are basically equivalent to 'It would be really bad if Iran had nuclear weapons'--no explanation of how they'll be kept from doing so, really -- it seems like a whole different kind of document. I haven't been following politics long (I'm only 19), but I was expecting a more similar sort of statement. Is this usually the way the incumbent party presents its platform? And I have been told these things really don't matter all that much, but how come no one at all write about them? Are we all just waiting to find the details in the President's speech? Help an uninformed voter out...

Dan Balz: Party platforms used to be long, long, long detailed documents that were drafted, debated, sometimes altered, approved and then tossed away. Over the years, parties have moved away from details, which often give the opposition something to pick at, to generalities and broad themes, designed to show a party's philosophy or principles. This year's Republican platform, like everything associated with this convention, is derivative of the president and the White House, so it would probably be better to look at his speeches and position papers. But one other factor is that Bush has not done much yet in terms of laying out a second term agenad, particularly on domestic and economic issues, so it would be difficult for the platform writers to put much specificity into their document. Maybe we'll hear more on Thursday night; maybe not.

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Washington, D.C.: Why do people in the media routinely fail to read entire transcripts of interviews? Bush did not flip-flop on winning the war and it is such a false issue but nice catch phrase for Democrats. Will terrorism ever end, probably not because even if bin Laden is captured, Hamas and like-minded groups will continue to exist. That is what Bush said... read the entire interview with Matt Lauer before judging what President Bush said.

Dan Balz: I think we do read transcripts or watch interviews and I'm confident that the reporters who wrote those stories did so. If the White House thought the president had answered the question clearly and in the way they wanted, he would not have come back on Tuesday to state emphatically that he believes the war is winnable.

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Alexandria, Va.: Was there much buzz among the delegates about those "purple heart" band aids that some are wearing? They seem unbelievably cheap to me and I wonder if there was any discussion about their appropriateness among Republicans.

Dan Balz: I can't tell you what the buzz was among the delegates on this yesterday but there seemed to be a pretty widespread condemnation of it, for good reason. Ed Gillespie, the RNC chairman, told us yesterday he had moved to stop it, suggesting he didn't see it as a harmless joke.

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Chicago, Ill.: Who would you rate as the top two to three contenders for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, and how to you think they would fare againt Hillary Clinton?

Dan Balz: The 2008 campaign is another of the subthemes at the convention and a number of the prospective candidates -- McCain, Bill Frist, Chuck Hagel, Rick Santorum just to name a few -- are making the rounds of the delegations this week. On Monday, Hagel said he had gone to see the Iowan delgation in the morning and was heading for the New Hampshire delegation in the afternoon. It's a little early to start handicapping a general election, at least for my taste. How do you think Hillary Clinton will far against John Edwards on the Democratic side?

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Dan Balz: We're out of time, so I want to thank everyone again for sending in questions or just joining the discussion online. It's always a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks.

Dan Balz

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