ST PAUL — The just concluded Republican National Convention was, for the most part, a failure.
Monday night was a total loss, mostly canceled in deference to a hurricane that turned out, thankfully, to be less serious than feared. Tuesday night featured a good speech by Fred Thompson and a typically lugubrious performance by Joe Lieberman. The Thompson speech was not carried by the broadcast networks.
The convention’s final night, traditionally the most-watched, was the biggest mess of all. Speakers were apparently chosen not based on who would be the best warm-up act for John McCain, but based on who was friendliest with John McCain. So we got dull performances from Lindsey Graham and Tom Ridge, and a little too much time devoted to Cindy McCain showing off the family.
Then there was the nominee’s speech itself. It had its moments toward the end, but for the most part it was too long, too low key, too flat, and too boring. What’s worse, the stagecraft was poor: McCain spoke in front of a screen that was an eye-watering green or blue for large swaths of his speech.
Yes, I skipped over Wednesday night. And it was Wednesday night that will be remembered, for Wednesday night was Sarah Palin’s night. Palin had been thrust headlong into the media buzzsaw; it was Palin and her family that the networks were working over instead of covering Thompson. She turned out to have brought along her own set of power tools and went to work on her critics, and on Barack Obama, with the cheerful precision of a much more seasoned politician.
Rudy Giuliani spoke earlier on Wednesday, and as I left the Xcel Energy Center after McCain’s speech I overheard people wondering why Giuliani wasn’t saved for Thursday. It’s a good question. Perhaps it was thought that Giuliani, one of the GOP’s most ferocious and effective attack dogs, was needed to lead the counter-assault on Palin Night. But it should have been anticipated that Palin would do well — her treatment by the media had lowered the bar quite a bit — and the organizers should have had the confidence to spread their talent out. As it is, what should have been four good nights of coverage was reduced to one.
Some of the shortcomings of the convention were unavoidable; the decision to cancel night one, given the risk that Gustav could have been another Katrina, is hard to second guess. But some of it was very avoidable. There is no reason that the convention had to feature that poorly designed stage, and no reason the schedule of speakers had to be stacked so ineffectively. There’s certainly no reason John McCain’s speech couldn’t have been better-written and better-delivered.
If McCain gets a bump in the polls in the coming days, he won’t have himself, or his party, to thank — he’ll have his running mate, and no one else.