September 2nd, 2008
08:40 PM ET
14 years ago

Gergen: 3 challenges for GOP this week

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Three challenges for the GOP this week."]

As Republicans gather tonight for their convention, they face three looming challenges, in my judgment. Would welcome your thoughts:

(1) Regain the momentum in this presidential campaign: Two weeks ago, Republicans had successfully set up this election as a referendum on Barack Obama and his readiness to be president. And John McCain was surging upward; he had the "Big Mo," as George H.W. Bush used to say. But in the wake of a successful Democratic convention and controversies swirling around McCain's selection of Sarah Palin, the conversation has shifted dramaticallly. Now, as this convention starts, a growing number of voters are asking: is the McCain-Palin ticket up to this? In short, it is becoming a referendum now about the GOP ticket, not the Democratic ticket. And as those questions arise, the Democrats are rising: recent polls show them, on average, with about a 6 point lead - up from a virtual tie two weeks ago. So the Republicans have to reverse that tide here.

(2) Bolster Sarah Palin: The Palin choice represented a huge risk at the time, and even as it has energized the Repubican base (especially evangelicals), it has raised new doubts about McCain's judgment and decision-making while raising other questions about Palin herself. I agree with the view that her children should be left out of this, especially by the press and by partisans on both sides. But Americans are swapping views about Palin - and about McCain - and as best I can tell (especially from CNN viewers who are filing on our blog sites), there are at least as many weighing in against her as in favor of McCain. Sarah Palin's speech will introduce her to millions of Americans for the first time - and this is an emormous opportunity for her - but in my judgment, the real tests will come when she no longer has a prepared script in front of her and is out there talking and answering questions from voters - and yes, the press. And one more thing: no more shoes can drop!

(3) Bring new focus to this campaign. McCain's message became crisper in August as he emphasized the dangers of the world, how prepared he is, and how unprepared he argued that Obama is. Now that he has named Palin, however, he has shifted focus to reforming Washington and his advisers are saying that experience has never been the central question. As a result, this Republican campaign has become blurred. (And where does our economic troubles now fit in?) It is not even clear that many voters will continue to see McCain as a maverick: again and again in the past, he has bucked his party orthodoxy - that's why independents came to admire him so much - but in choosing his vice president, he gave up his real preference (he wanted Lieberman or Rid ge) and bowed to the social conservatives' strong preference for someone else like Palin. The upside is that he has definitely charged up his base - but his focus has become more blurred. At this convention, McCain and company must reframe their key arguments - and come out of St. Paul as charged up as the Democrats did out of Denver.

Can all this be done? Yes, the Republicans are very good at staging conventions. But the tide is now moving back to Democrats, and the Republicans now have three nights to reverse it.

Do you think they will? Can they? Or do you think Democrats will continue to hold an upper hand when this convention is over?

soundoff (101 Responses)
  1. Bulldog

    Nobody knows Sarah Palin yet. Even the Republicans and John McCain himself don't know her. This just proves McCain is dangerous with this CRAZY pick. More and more of the truth is coming out on Palin who was picked because she was a so called reformer.

    She is not a reformer but rather a fraud due to the following:

    -As mayor of Wasilla, population 5700 at that time, she hired a lobby firm to help her get $27 million dollars in federal earmarks from 2000-2003.

    -As governor of Alaska the state received $570 million and $200 million dollars in federal earmarks which John McCain is against.

    -In 2002 Palin received $4500 from the same firm that has gotten Senator Steven indited for a felony and is under FBI investigation.

    -Sarah Palin's gubernatorial administration illegally possessed confidential files of her ex brother-in-law.

    -Palin is under a state investigation for abuse of power and recently hired a private lawyer who is authorized to spend up to $95000 to defend her.

    Palin is clearly a fraud on the ISSUES she supposedly was picked on.
    Where is the judgement now?????

    September 2, 2008 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  2. Sarah

    McCain had momentum and was "surging upward" two weeks ago?

    What polls were YOU looking at?

    September 2, 2008 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  3. Cecil

    Sen. McCain Is Going Down, Crying!

    September 2, 2008 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  4. Gergen rules

    Sad that Palin's career could be over before its started, ain't it?!

    September 2, 2008 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  5. anyonmous

    no i dont think the republicans can do it now shut up cnn

    September 2, 2008 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  6. Matt

    Per Washington Post:
    Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain's presidential bid, insisted that the presidential race will be decided more over personalities than issues during an interview with Post editors this morning.

    "This election is not about issues," said Davis.

    Hey CNN, where's your report on this? This explains a TON!

    September 2, 2008 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  7. Lynda and John

    Sarah is Not the one I want to send overseas to represent USA to the possible hostile countries and the world.

    September 2, 2008 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  8. Kyle Indianapolis, Indiana

    Challenge for GOP: Change party platform so that more than the top 2% can benefit.

    September 2, 2008 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  9. Adrienne

    It's become a referendum on mccain's judgement. He picked a vp for his political gain over keeping the country safe. We all know that. It does not paint a pretty picture of Mccain's priorities as a leader. It's Mccain first. Not Country first,

    September 2, 2008 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  10. Lynda and John

    We love David Gergen!!

    September 2, 2008 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  11. Lance

    The GOP's momentum has been completely stalled. Instead of defining his would be Presidency, John McCain has spent the first two days of his convention defending his v.p. pick, becoming surly with reporters, cancelling interviews with Palin.

    In all my years, I've never seen so many scandals coming so quickly and during a party's convention to boot. The entire GOP is self destructing before our eyes.

    The GOP platform has been hijacked by McCain's bad judgement. Way to go John, you may have made a politically worse decision even than your buddy Bush did when he decided to invade Iraq.

    At the rate we're going, it at least looks like Sarah Palin may be as dangerous as a war zone anyway.

    September 2, 2008 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  12. McP-I-M-P

    The Fact is there are two kinds of people in America:
    The Democrats are relying on America's intelligence to win
    The Republicans are relying on America's ignorance to win

    Big Blo Blo McLame picked someone with even less experience and qualification so therefore Obama WAS READY TO LEAD in the first place! There is no question about it!!!!!!
    And talk about Family Values! I can just see it now my 17 yo tellin me if she can do it why can't I!

    September 2, 2008 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  13. HRG

    God help us all if the Republicans pull this off.

    There is no other choice in this election but OBAMA/BIDEN!!!

    September 2, 2008 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  14. Ann

    Well, with Sarah Pawlenty's foreign policy experience, Alaska is really close to Russia you know, and her 20 months executive experience as a governor of a state with less than 1million people in addition the PTA experience, the Republicians should be feeling really confident right now.

    September 2, 2008 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  15. Susan from Scotts Valley, CA

    I have confidence that the Democrats will have the upper hand when it's over, David. Neither Palin or McCain are inspirational enough to turn this tide. Yes they might get a bump but it will not be big enough to overcome the BIG MO that OBAMA has now. And each day goes by, the excitement for Palin will dwindle.

    September 2, 2008 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  16. Greg

    Is Gergen going to extol the virtues of Sarah as being a new type of working mom the same way he gushed over Michelle? He made it sound like Michelle invented working and raising a family at the same time. As if the boomer moms haven't been doing it for 40 yrs.

    September 2, 2008 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  17. Lori D

    I have been a Democrat all of my life and I changed. I am so happy that McCain has picked his VP/Palin. She is middle America, she is the woman next door with her share of cares/childen, things to deal with daily and much on her plate. Of course she can handle it, women are used to multi-tasking. He is thinking out of the box and long term. I am so proud to have McCain on the ticket, he is our leader. I am excited about the party changes and she is pulling in Hunters/Sports Enthusiasts/Christians/Middle America/Mom's real people into the Republican Party – Wow – what a turn around the Republicans are doing, both are mavericks/bulls in the party – Heed on! Win! Win!Win!
    Go Navy!!!

    September 2, 2008 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  18. S. Boatman

    To Bad They Are Not Going To Be Able To Do Any Of Those Things!

    September 2, 2008 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  19. Hillary Supporter

    Wow, it looks as if the church has taken over the republican convention. The funny thing is, McCain is not very religious and Palin will not be implementing any policy even if she is elected.

    September 2, 2008 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  20. Greg S.

    I look at McCain / Palin and all I see is More Pain

    September 2, 2008 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  21. Ridgeway

    Pathetic Democratic Party. JFK, Harry Truman, Roosevelt, and this is the best you can do? An unaccomplished, unAmerican, Muslim. I thought you hit rock bottom with Kerry but this guy is lower the the ocean floor.
    What has he done to earn the Presidency? Name one thing? Organize a picnic in Chicago?

    September 2, 2008 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  22. AnnCT

    The republicans are something else, look at them trying to sell this woman as the next Hillary Clinton.

    September 2, 2008 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  23. Theresa

    I have a challenge for them.... To be able to remember their VP pick without having to read her name and where she is from off a card and have to look at it about a dozen times. This is what McCain did at his rally in Washington, PA over the weekend. What a feeble old man he is, he can't even remember his running mate's name or where she hails from, and Republicans want him running the country? What a huge error.

    Go Obama/Biden '08

    September 2, 2008 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  24. James

    David, With deference to your status as a former adviser to presidents in times of trouble, my read on the current staus of the republican ticket is any thing but trouble, it is excitement...naming Sara Palin to the ticket was a brillant stroke of political manuevering...while Joe Biden was sent to speak to a group of Florida seniors about Obama's "commitment to Israel", the news is all about Palin ..wait until those seniors hear about her thoughts on energy, corruption, the old boys network...stay close to the phone as Biden may be in trouble.

    September 2, 2008 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  25. Bored with McCain and his convention

    Somebody, please! Wake me up when this Repug Convention is over!
    A complete waste of air space and time!

    September 2, 2008 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
1 2 3 4 5