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Republican Convention: Analysis

David S. Broder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 2, 2004; 3:00 PM

The 2004 Republican National Convention concludes on Thursday with speeches from New York Governor George Pataki and President Bush.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist David S. Broder takes your questions Thursday, Sept. 2, at 3 p.m. ET on the speeches, the conventions and the election.

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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.


Charlotte, N.C.: What is the Bush strategy? It appears to me the convention in New York City has been focused on reminding people of 9/11 and hammering John Kerry. I don't see either as effective in reaching out to swing voters.

Is Bush simply going to try to fire up the base all the way up until Nov. 2, and then hope to win it with a high turnout?

David S. Broder: I agree with you that the major speeches here this week have been almost one-dimensional in their focus on the threat of terrorism and President Bush's responses to it. We are told that the president will address domestic issues as well as international in his speech tonight, and I would think it important that he do so.


Millbrae, Calif.: Doesn't it all come down to who will win Ohio and Florida? And if those split, who wins Missouri?

David S. Broder: I think there are more states than those two or three in play--from New Hampshire out to Nevada. And I do not rule out that some large event could still change the fundamental character of this election.


Washington, D.C.: What do the polls show about how the Republican Convention is being received by the viewing public?

David S. Broder: I don't think the public polls will be taken--or be very meaningful--until after the president's speech tonight.


Boston, Mass.: Mr. Broder,

A quick question on the 527 ads. According to McCain-Feingold, aren't those groups prohibited from advertising for or against a candidate starting 60 days prior to the lection? Would that be tomorrow?

David S. Broder: You are correct.


David S. Broder: Senator Miller's tone and expression certainly suggested he was feeling some pretty strong emotion--anger or frustration with his own party. I thought Mr. Cheney was, as usual, cool as a cucumber.


Harrisburg, Pa.: So is John McCain fully committed to the Bush campaign, and will pledge to spend the next few months personally campaiging to see that Bush carries Iowa and New Hampshire?

washingtonpost.com: The McCain Phenomenon (Post, Aug. 31)

David S. Broder: Senator McCain has told me and other reporters he will be campaigning for the president and other Republicans all over the country for the next two months. I don't suppose he knows exactly what states will be on his itinerary as yet.


Bowie, Md.: Senator Clinton described this convention as a "sham" hiding the true low-taxes-for-the-rich and religious-right-social-agenda nature of the party. I'm sure some Republicans made analogous remarks about the Democratic convention.

When and how will we know if voters buy into what goes on at the conventions or if they reject it as stage-managed manipulation?

David S. Broder: We should get some clues next week when the post-convention polls are taken. But remember when reading those polls that past research shows that most of the audience members are already partisans of the party holding the convention.


Poughkeepsie, N.Y.: It seems pretty standard for pundits to defer judgement on the impact of speeches, conventions, advertising campaigns, etc. because they cannot guess how that ethereal portion of the electorate that shifts the polls a few points one way or the other is going to react. I find it increadably tiring to constantly have to remind myself that my judgement about quality of an event is always meaningless by comparison with the effect of the same event on persons unknown. Do you find yourself experiencing the same kind of alienation?

David S. Broder: No, I would not say I find the experience alienating. I have great respect for the way voters process all the information and impressions they acquire during a campaign, and I think their instincts serve them well.


Rochester Hills, Mich.: I'm astonished at the imcompetance of the Kerry Campaign, what are Shurm, Devine and Company thinking. The first thing I was taught in Graduate School is to define yourself before you give your opponent the chance to. The Kerry Campaign obviously forgot about this fundamental. Where is the rapid response? The last thing Democrats need is the image of an already aloof Kerry wind surfing. This reminds me of Al Gore all over again.

David S. Broder: So what exactly do you have against wind-surfing? No, I'm kidding. The Kerry people still believe they made the right decision in using the Boston convention primarily to try to establish his credentials as a potential commander in chief. Clearly, they should have anticipated that his own heavy emphasis on his Vietnam experience would reopen some of the controversies surrounding that war--and they should have figured out more quickly than they did how to deal with that controversy.


Washington, D.C.: Do you believe that Zell Miller's speech will actually backfire on the Republicans, just as Pat Buchanan's did in 1992?

David S. Broder: The backlash on Buchanan was very severe. I doubt that the Miller speech will prove to be equally controversial, but I know some Republicans here are concerned about the angry tone of his remarks.


Los Angeles, Calif.: I know there are no polls out yet that tell us what effect the convention will have but what is your gut telling you about how this is playing in Peoria. My sense is that we will see no bounce or a very tiny bounce.

David S. Broder: I have no clear sense of how this is playing in Peoria. Let's wait and see.


Charlotte, N.C.: Mr. Broder,

I've always respected your insights to the political process. Are you surprised at how lost the Kerry campaign appears to be? Do you believe Kerry will find his voice and reestablish a strong candidacy?

David S. Broder: In past campaigns, including the Senate race against Gov. Bill Weld eight years ago, Sen. Kerry has been a strong finisher. I was out with him for a few days last week and found his personal campaigning quite uneven--connecting well at one stop but being flat at the next. I think a challenger has to find a consistent tone and approach that work for him, and I don't think Senator Kerry is there yet.


Frederick, Md.: It seems to me that if John Kerry had given an interview conceding defeat in the war on terrorism, the Republicans would already be using the tape in their commercials, retraction or no. Will the Kerry people have the sense to play it this way, and if not, what does this tell us about their instincts?

David S. Broder: Judging from what some senior Kerry people told me this morning, that campaign wants to shift the emphasis back to the economy, health care and other domestic issues as quickly as possible, rather than prolong the debate about terrorism, which is the president's strong suit.


Washington, D.C.:
Would you agree that calling Michael Moore out for derision as a "disingenuous filmmaker" without having seen the film is worse than disingenuous?

John McCain has many admirable traits. But he is squandering his credibility quickly.

David S. Broder: I think enough has been shown about the distortions in Michael Moore's work that "disingenuous" is a rather mild description.


Arlington, Va.: Hello! Quick question: Where was Mary Cheney last night during the Cheney Family moment? Is it true she stayed on the sidelines, fearing she'd be too much of a liability for her father? If so, isn't that at odds with the GOP's purported image of inclusion, compassionate conservatism, etc.?

David S. Broder: I do not know the answer to your question. The Post story this morning said Ms. Cheney stayed away at her own initiative. Personally, I wish we could get past the distasteful habit of forcing children of candidates to stand up and perform at conventions as the Kerry and Bush daughters were asked to do.


San Antonio, Tex.: Do you know if Bush's speech will be released to the press sometime today before he delivers it? Do you know if Karen Hughes and Bush's other speechwriters have been tinkering with it today or much within the last several days? Other than supposedly laying out the Bush agenda for the next four years, have the press gotten any more whispers about what Bush's address tonight might contain? Is there anything, in your opinion, that Bush SHOULD address? Will convention politics figure into your next column(s)?

David S. Broder: I'm sure I will write about this convention in the column I do later tonight, for newspapers this weekend. I'm waiting to see the Bush speech, and hope they will release it relatively early in the evening, but I have no such assurance.


Philadelphia, Pa.: We hear a lot about the power of Karl Rove. Is he as omnipotent as the media presents him? Why does the media seem to think he's such a genius?

David S. Broder: No one, including Karl Rove, is omnipotent. He is a smart political operative who has played an important role in George Bush's rise to the governorship and the presidency. Like everyone else, he also has made mistakes of judgment--including his forecasts of the scale of Bush's victory in 2000.


New York, N.Y.: Was Zell Miller's series of "it's the soldier" attacks on the media and protesters out of line?

David S. Broder: Speaking strictly for myself, I did not feel in the least bit threatened or insulted by his reference to freedom of the press.


Charleson, S.C.: Mr. Broder,
I realize politics is a blood sport, but do you believe we have entered a dangerous area, when it seems both parties are willing to tear down honorable and loyal Americans for the sake of furthering their agenda. Have the "politics of personal destruction" finally hit critical mass?

David S. Broder: If we are not at that point, we are too damn close for comfort. The nastiness in Congress mirrors what we're seeubg much too much of on the campaign trail. I wish I could see more of a voter backlash against such tactics. Nothing else will have much effect.


San Juan Capistrano, Calif.: Is there any hope at all that, after the election, the strong partisan divide can be tempered and we can move forward with addressing the real issues such as the tragedy of the uninsured?

David S. Broder: There is some hope, but as long as the parties remain almost even in strength, the temptation will continue to ask, about every issue, "Does it help us or them?" Leadership of the right sort can set a tone and make a difference, but it is the severe competitiveness of the current situation that inflames the animosity.


Arlington, Va.: Mr. Broder, after some of the truly vicious things said about President Bush by Ted Kennedy, Terry Mcauliffe, Senator Byrd, and, a former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, I don't believe the Democrats have a lock on the moral high ground complaining about Zell Miller.

What goes around, comes around.

David S. Broder: There are plenty of examples on both sides of over-the-top rhetoric.


Voter backlash: Hi Mr. Broder,
I am one of your biggest fans. Out of curiousity, what types of strategies do you think voters could use to express their disgust with the tenor of campaigns?

David S. Broder: Tell the pollsters you despise it--and even better, tell the candidates and campaigns themselves. E-mails and phone calls have an effect.


San Antonio, Tex.: Wouldn't it be better--or more honest--if the each candiate's wife was also asked not to "perform" at their respective Democratic and Rebublican convention? Certainly the time given to their soft focus on their husbands could be better spent nitpicking the issues? In this sense, if the wife is demure and traditional--as is Laura Bush, or outspoken and contemporary--as is Teresa Heinz Kerry--then they would not reflect on their husband's politics (and they truly don't)--as it should be?

David S. Broder: I would be happy if the spouses too were allowed to enjoy a greater degree of privacy. But at least they are mature adults who presumably made decisions to marry politicians--knowing that public exposure was part of the price.


Arlington, Va.: What are your thoughts about Ralph Nader's reported comments yesterday? He seems to have become a stalking horse for Kerry. Indeed, it sounded as if he almost endorsed Kerry.

washingtonpost.com: Nader Crashes the GOP's Bash (Post, Sept. 2)

David S. Broder: Whatever Mr. Nader is, I doubt he is a stalking-horse for Senator Kerry. He is plainly a worry to the Kerry campaign, which is why it is trying to limit the number of states where he is on the ballot.


Virginia Beach, Va.: What did you think of the Governor of California's speech? I thought it was very effective, and makes you want to amend the Constitution to make Arnold eligible for the presidency.

David S. Broder: I agree with you about Gov. Schwarzenegger's speech. Several astute Republicans here have said they think it would be easier to amend the Constitution to make foreign-born citizens eligible for the presidency were Schwarzenegger not so likely to be the first beneficiary of the change. They reason that Democrats would combine with Republicans who have other 2008 ambitions in mind to make such an amendment difficult. Schwarzenegger aside, I think this is one of the very few constitutional changes I would support--just as a way of broadening the talent pool in politics as immigration has improved the overall quality of our workforcce.


Flowermound, Tex.: How do you think Zell Miller compared to Barak Obama as the keynote speaker

David S. Broder: For an experienced observer like myself, it is not difficult to tell them apart. Just listen to the accents.


El Cerrito, Calif.: How much impact do you think the debates will have on "swing voters?" I was one of them in 2000, and they became the deciding factor for me, making me vote for Bush vs. Gore, I'm sad to admit.

David S. Broder: I expect the debates will once again be very important this year--as devices for stimulating a lot of water cooler and back fence conversations about the presidential choice. I think they are very valuable tools for voters such as yourself to use.


Michael Moore: Exacty which distortions has Michael Moore made. You seem to be spouting those words rather casually.

David S. Broder: They have been detailled in stories in our newspaper and in many other publications. I think there is so much poison in our political system that I object to more--whether from the left or the right.


San Diego, Calif.: Did you get the sense early on during the convention the delegates understood just how out of step with Republican orthodoxy their premier speakers were? Specifically, Guiliani and Arnold with regards to social and environmental issues. Or perhaps, they did fully comprehend but needed the "window dressing."

David S. Broder: My sense is that both the governor and the former mayor have rock-star celebrity status that overwhelms any concerns for now about their policy views. At least in the eyes of Republican delegates. Mayor Giuliani also has earned a lot of points from Republican organization activists by campaigning for their candidates all over the country.


Arlington, Va.: It's been a bit surprising to me that the Republicans have rallied so strongly around President Bush. Given the weakness in the economy and major difficulties in Iraq, there is amazingly little second guessing or backbiting. I've gradually come to suspect that the very vehemence of the Democratic attacks may have led to the strong and unified stand of the Republicans.

Do you think the Republican response would be different if the Democrats were a little less zealous in their hatred of President Bush? Perhaps if their enthusiasm were channelled toward a candidate who they were genuinely excited about because of what he or she had to offer, instead of excitement generated by their absolute determination to beat President Bush?

David S. Broder: Thank you for the very thoughtful question that will end this session. I think the principal reason that Republicans have rallied around President Bush is the positive approval he wins among them for his policies--both international and domestic. But there's no question that the fervor of Democrats to defeat Mr. Bush has evoked an equally emotional response from Republicans. We are headed for a high-turnout election and likely another very close one.
Thank all of you who participated in this session. Now I have to go back to work.


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