ST. PAUL -- "This plan makes no sense. It's the height of political correctness," railed John Ziegler, a California alternate delegate, Sunday after he heard the news that John McCain was suspending the political part of the first night of the Republican National Convention. Ziegler was angry that presidential nominee McCain has chosen to cede airtime that could be used "to correct the record of all the lies and distortions that were told last week" by Democrats at their convention in Denver. "It is nothing more than fear of what the liberal media will do to them."
Sometimes fear is a rational thing. If ever a convention appeared star-crossed, this is the one.
The media were predicting that a Category 4-strength Hurricane Gustav would hit New Orleans nearly three years to the day after Hurricane Katrina flooded the Big Easy, and swamped the reputation of President Bush. The storm forced conservative heartthrob Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to cancel his prime-time speaking role, while a stalled California budget kept Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- and his considerable celebrity (in 2004 this was not a dirty word in the Republican lexicon) -- in Sacramento. Hurricane or not.
Oh, yeah, and it turns out that GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant.
By the end of the day, Gustav was downgraded to a Category 2 storm. Dubya couldn't make it. Instead the ever-popular first lady Laura Bush explained that the Gulf Coast governors -- all Republicans -- were too busy working to come to the convention. Cindy McCain directed the audience to contribute to charities via causegreater.com. Flanked by rescue workers, Texas Gov. Rick Perry explained via video that the coastal Republican governors were "taking care of the citizens. That's what we do."
Yes, the California budget is still a mess. But tell me America won't tune in Wednesday night to take the measure of Bristol Palin's mother. Tell me Americans won't be sympathetic to Palin after her family has been poured into the meat grinder.
Many in the California delegation believe that Palin got a raw deal. "The mainstream media have done nothing but sandbag her 24/7,'' Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, told me -- before the pregnancy story broke.
"This came as, to some degree, a surprise to the media, so they do not know how to respond," said former California Secretary of State Bill Jones from the convention floor. (Note how reporters cooed about the Obama campaign's discipline in keeping his vice presidential pick's identity quiet -- even marveling that Joe Biden, who could be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office, could keep a secret -- with few kudos to McCain for his campaign's tight lips.)
In a conference call Monday afternoon, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said the night's event would be "nonpolitical" in nature. The Tuesday schedule for 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.: "McCain family members and convention participants volunteer to assemble caregiver packs." Apparently no one at Camp McCain got the memo about not going overboard.
The Repubs know that Gustav has sucked up media attention, possibly suppressing a post-convention Obama bounce. (A CNN poll reported a 49-48-point spread for Obama over McCain, while a CBS poll was 48-40.) They also know that McCain cannot match Barack Obama's Invesco Field speech.
Not to worry. The unconventional convention has the Dems playing "me-too." The usually ahead-of-the-curve Obama appealed to his own supporters to donate to the American Red Cross.
Not a bad day for the GOP, considering.
With all that said, members of the Republican Party know that their leadership screwed up. At the California delegation breakfast Monday, former Gov. Pete Wilson hit the big-spending bonanza that occurred when Republicans ruled the White House and Congress, when he said, "We lost the House and the Senate in '06 because we behaved like Democrats."
At his own party's convention, Wilson bashed his party. And it was a huge applause line.