The Convention's Winners and Losers


By Richard S. Dunham The siege of Gotham has ended. The barricades are down, the hordes of police are gone, the protesters have scattered to the winds, and limousine liberals can return to town from their bunkers in the Hamptons. Now it's time for the pundits to play the "spin" game over the President's Republican convention "bounce." How big? How long-lasting? How silly!

Bounces come and go, but some political players have emerged from the convention with their careers enhanced, while others may never recover. Here are some of the winners and losers from the GOP's Garden party:

Winners

Rudy Giuliani: Three years ago, he was a moderately unpopular lame-duck mayor of the country's largest city. But his determined response to the September 11 attacks made him a respected international figure and sought-after celebrity lecturer.

The Republican Convention has catapulted him to the next level. Now, despite the fact that he's a pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights social liberal, Giuliani is being talked about as a bona fide contender for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination. He was greeted as a conquering hero. And his convention speech blended humor and tough-minded talk about nations that coddle terrorists. Don't sell him short.

Arnold: He almost doesn't need a last name anymore. The actor-turned-governor wowed the party faithful with a convention address that blended reverence for the American dream with reverence for the Republican Party. His riff on what it means to be a Republican provides a smart formula for ways to expand the GOP to reach voters in the middle, particularly young voters.

Sure, the California Governor's reference to "girlie men" -- his favorite epithet of the moment -- will rile feminists and liberals. Then again, not too many of them are Republicans. Clearly, for the Republican Party, the Terminator is a more attractive "action hero" face for independents than the Exterminator (House Majority Leader Tom DeLay) or Doctor No (Vice-President Cheney).

I would expect the Bush campaign to beg Arnold to work as a surrogate in several swing states this fall -- since the President has close to zero chance of carrying California.

Michael Steele: He's the rising African-American star of the GOP that nobody saw. Steele, the lieutenant governor of Maryland, delivered one of the best short speeches of the convention and proved adept at handling some of the parliamentary tasks that take place before prime time. But the highest-ranking black elected official in the nation has star quality written all over him. He's a fine thinker, a charismatic speaker, and a solid conservative. Watch for him in a future Presidential Cabinet.

John McCain: His much-heralded convention speech was a bit of a dud, a low-energy endorsement of his Commander-in-Chief. But McCain was second to Giuliani on the Gotham political celebrity charts. The man Bush defeated in the 2000 primary seemed to be everywhere, praising the President at delegation breakfasts and hosting an A-List party at the trendy Cipriani nightspot that featured Saturday Night Live's Darrell Hammond and SNL alum Joe Piscopo.

McCain also wasn't doing anything to squelch rumors that he might consider a 2008 White House bid. If he decides to run for President again, it won't hurt that he has expended a chunk of his political capital to help reelect his erstwhile enemy.

Trent Lott: Remember the former Senate Majority Leader from Mississippi? Lott lost his job in the aftermath of the flap over comments he made at the late Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, but he was ubiquitous in New York and appears to be in the good graces of the White House again. Indeed, he had a seat of honor in the Vice-President's box on the first night of the convention. He was flanked by his wife and a former Miss America, Erika Harold. Lucky man.

Losers

Dennis Hastert: The Speaker of the House was the presiding officer of the convention, but he'll probably be best remembered for his slashing attacks on Democratic nominee John Kerry -- if anybody watched his remarks. Meanwhile, the White House was doing its best to distance itself from Hastert's proposal to replace the federal income tax with a national sales tax. Commerce Secretary Donald H. Evans said the President found the concept "interesting" but wasn't studying it as he works on a second-term tax-reform package.

Tom DeLay: Strange, isn't it, that the most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill didn't get a prime-time speaking slot? Even the Democrats gave their firebrands, like Howard Dean and Al Sharpton, prominent places in the schedule at their convention in Boston. Only a few DeLay sightings were made during the convention. Sources say he was working hard to stay out of the public view while raising wads of money and working to extend his party's congressional majority.

That's just the way the Majority Leader likes it. But sometimes invisible is as invisible does.

Zell Miller: When the then-Georgia governor was picked as Bill Clinton's Democratic convention keynoter in 1992, people asked, "Zell Who?" Nobody will ever say that again. "Zellout" and "Zealott" perhaps, but everybody knows his name. As 2004 Republican Convention keynoter, the lame-duck Democratic senator gave the angriest nationally televised address since Pat Buchanan declared "culture war" in 1992. One clever wag described Miller's half-hour rant as "Howard Dean: The Complete Album."

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card was asked by a reporter whether Miller's angry face was the face he wanted to display to America. "It's the face that Zell Miller has," Card said, deadpan. One good way to think of Miller: He was the GOP's kamikaze pilot of 2004: He crashed in flames, but he did a lot of damage to his target, too.

Dick Cheney: The man they call Doctor No didn't do much to rehabilitate his image with his Convention acceptance speech on Sept. 1. It was so cool it was almost cadaverous -- and cold-blooded in its attacks on John Kerry's flip-flops. (Disingenuous, too. Many of the military programs Kerry opposed were programs that Cheney, as Defense Secretary in the post-Cold War era, endorsed cutting or eliminating.)

The Veep won't convince many undecided voters to vote for President Bush, but he might persuade a few that Kerry isn't an acceptable alternative. And that could help Bush's election prospects -- even as Cheney's own popularity might continue to erode from its current record lows.

Trial lawyers: John Kerry was Republicans' Public Enemy No. 1 in New York, but trial lawyers were a close second. Dozens of speakers bashed members of the bar for filing "junk lawsuits." Attorneys were blamed for the escalating cost of health care, rising medical malpractice insurance premiums, climbing prices for consumer goods, and shortages among medical specialists in states hard-hit by skyrocketing malpractice rates (see BW, 9/13/04, "Can Lawyer-Bashing Win Votes for Bush?").

The GOP's corporate benefactors love this stuff. It raises a lot of money for Republican candidates, no question about it. But does help to defeat Democrats? That's another question. Dunham edits BusinessWeek's Washington Outlook column. Follow his views in Washington Watch, only on BusinessWeek Online


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