Gustav – bad news or good news for Republicans?

Conventional wisdom says that hurricane Gustav is a disaster for the Republicans and their hoped for convention bounce. Essentially the meme says that they can’t effectively use their 4 days for the uninterupted message sales job conventions normally provide.

And that, of course, is expected to dampen any bounce the Republicans might have enjoyed.

Nate Silver of “The Plank” presents the counter-argument:

Now then — how could Gustav help the Republicans? Let me run briefly through four or five ways:

1. Allows McCain to Appear Magnanimous. By potentially delaying or canceling his “date” at the GOP convention, McCain appears as though he is giving something up to tend to the Gulf Coast. Sympathetic and neutral-to-sympathetic media outlets may view this as underscoring McCain’s “America First” theme.

2. Lowers Expectations Bar. The selection of Sarah Palin as the VP nominee has forced the GOP to shift abruptly from a “Ready to Lead” theme to an “America First” theme. While it is difficult to say whether one of these themes was intrinsically stronger than the other, odds are that a lot of speeches had to be re-engineered, probably rendering them less effective upon delivery. Gustav, however, may give the GOP a built-in “excuse” for more off-the-cuff, hastily-organized speeches.

3. Removes the Bush problem. The further Mr. 30% is from St. Paul, the better off the Republicans will be.

4. Do-Over. Americans have short memories, and a relatively more successful response to Gustav could allow the GOP to argue that it has redeemed itself for the mistake of Katrina.

5. Crisis Mentality May Benefit McCain. By appearing in New Orleans, and perhaps even delivering his acceptance speech from there, McCain will have the opportunity to appear “presidential”. Rather than asserting to that he is ready to lead — an assertion that was undermined the the selection of Palin — he may hope to give the appearance of actually demonstrating such leadership.

3,4, and 5 seem to me to be the most important points in his list.

Frankly, keeping Bush out of the convention limelight is a positive. How to do that without Gustav is all but impossible. Gustav provides a perfect excuse and, interestingly, Bush himself grabbed it quickly.

The “do-over” aspect is very important. Even if New Orleans floods, the orderly and well planned evacuation is a huge positive story to tell. If NO comes out relatively unscathed, weathering a hurricane which is, according to all reports a little more dangerous than Katrina (because of its landfall category and where it is hitting), then this becomes a very, very positive story – one of redemption for the Bush administration.

And as Silver points out, since the spotlight is focused on the Republicans anyway, it is a perfect opportunity to display leadership by McCain. That coupled with a much better outcome for New Orleans (if that’s the case) could actually help Republicans this week.

Lowering expectations doesn’t resound with me. Changing the focus of the speeches perhaps. But if everything comes out relatively well with Gustav, it can become a celebration of success by Wednesday. I see that as a possible positive and certainly something which will reflect well on point 5.

As for point 1 – apparently that is beginning to happen. The Republican Ohio delegation has spontaneously raised $20,000 for disaster victims vs. giving it to the party. They obviously have to tread carefully on this (or it becomes fodder for the old “politicizing” a disaster argument), but it is an opportunity to demonstrate magnanimity.

So to Michael Moore and former National Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Don Fowler who think Gustav is an answer to a prayer, maybe not so much, huh?

[Crossposted at QandO]

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