Old hands at platform-building have been cut out this time. Former congressional staffer William Gribbin, who has written all the party's national platforms dating back to 1980, was not invited. The hope for a substantive platform was the selection as the executive director of Jay Lefkowitz, White House policy chief for the first three years of the Bush administration. But he was dropped when he declined to resign from his Washington law-lobbying firm.
The slow pace of platform-building may be attributed to Frist's preoccupation with being majority leader, but a more devious explanation is confirmed by the apparent schedule. In recent years, platform committee members arrive on Sunday night the week before the convention and are then given the platform draft. The usual Sunday night reception has been canceled, and committee members expect to get the documents Monday morning. Actually, they will not start until Tuesday, leaving little time for consideration before approving it Thursday.
The Democrats at least went through the charade of an open drafting committee session, which was totally controlled by the Kerry campaign. But the Bush campaign appears to be readying the platform committee with a fait accompli. If they are given the antiseptic document that appears likely, an explosion may occur in New York.
A platform executive director was finally named last week: Washington lobbyist Anne Phelps, an ex-White House aide who before that was Frist's chief health adviser. Newly appointed platform communications director Ginny Wolfe, another former Frist aide, started her stint at the platform committee this week by being supremely uncommunicative to this column.
What the Bush campaign seems to be building is what one veteran GOP operative told us is "the antithesis of traditional Republican platforms. After all, when you're proud of your positions, and confident of their rightness, you want to explain them. When you're afraid to talk about them, well . . . "