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. Sammy

    McCain sacrificed moderate voters to gain far right voters. It's a big gamble and it will take a couple weeks to figure out whether or not it worked.

    September 2, 2008 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  2. Tracey

    What he needs to do? He needs to change his policies and way of thinking that is not in alignment with the modern world!


    September 2, 2008 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  3. ali

    I personally am pro-life and a democrat and a Christian, but am amazed to find out this week that Christians never eeeevvver consider abortions much less have them.(sarcasm) I am also the father of two disabled little girls who is quite bothered by people giving someone bonus points for keeping a child with down syndrome or one born out of wedlock. In itself it implies that we with children who don't fit the model of what is perfect are doing something extraordinary because we have these "less than perfect children. In reality, according to the bible, loving these children is something we are called to do anyway. Don't "exploit" these children to make a point. For something that everyone wants to keep private, alot of people sure are manipulating the situation to gain brownie points.

    September 2, 2008 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  4. Anna

    In one word..... NO

    September 2, 2008 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  5. vince

    The dirty, old politics and scare tactics won't work for the GOP this Election like how it did 4 years ago. This week's convention is going to be quite amusing.

    September 2, 2008 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  6. AnnCT

    And another thing, McCain acts before thinking and that is very scary to think he could be the next president of the united states.

    And another thing, they are accusing people of sexism and they are exploiting this woman and her family for political gain.

    September 2, 2008 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  7. La Keeda in Texas

    People really need to think about if John McCain suddenly "kicked the bucket" (he's no spring chicken), is Sarah Palin really who you want to run the country? She is no Hillary Clinton and picking her just because she is a woman is an insult to the Hillary's and all other intelligent women out there. Although she can't control her 17 year old daughter being pregnant, it does say something about her lack of adequate parenting or at the least, educating about birth control. So the question begs to be asked, Does Sarah Palin already have too much on her plate? Becoming Vice President would take up even more time. Yes, there is a husband. But the husband was there as well and Bristol is still 5 months pregnant. Think about it, America!

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

    Are the republicans insinuating that Democrats do not serve their country?

    September 2, 2008 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  9. don from california

    No. Here's why. Like you said, "no more shoes can drop." But they have. Within the last hour, the AP has reported that she has recieved some shady funds from the same people who were implicated in the Ted Stevens ordeal. Also, the AP is reporting that her husband is a two time member of a seperatist party in Alaska, which looks VERY bad compared to Michelle Obama's comments about being proud of her country. Also, there is a new church video that has come up where she explains that she supports the war in Iraq as God's purpose. Serious allegations coming from serious journalists.

    September 2, 2008 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  10. SeattleVoter

    This country will never be united as long as individuals refuse to compromise. For generations republicans have blamed the democrats for nearly all the hardships and vice versa. I'm still amazed there are so many Hillary supporters who openly state their decision to vote for McCain simply out of revenge so that Hillary Clinton may have another opportunity to run in 2012 depending on the November results. This is not only childish, but inconceivable why somebody would vote against their core values and beliefs simply because they remain angry. Whether you support McCain or Obama let's face the truth that no matter who gets elected that nothing will ever improve or change until we as a people can come together to appreciate the differences we have and work together for one common goal to unite the United States. Please stop working against each other people.. this solves nor resolves anything and only leads to more division.

    Raised Republican
    Decade Long Democrat
    Currently Independent

    September 2, 2008 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  11. David

    Mrs Palin's 20 months of executive exoerience gives her more experience than John McCain and their Democratic rivals if we are to believe the Republican spin.

    September 2, 2008 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  12. Virginia Voter

    Nice Republican National Convention graphic for the ticker, CNN. I didn't see that during the Democratic National Convention.

    "Fair and Balanced" has started to slide more toward "Faux and Bologna."

    Obama/Biden is really the only choice here...should be a no-brainer save for the most ignorant and blind of Americans.

    September 2, 2008 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  13. No McCain

    I seem to get lost trying to understand what McSame is for or against,
    ... looks like it depends on the weather condition.

    September 2, 2008 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  14. Bud

    When do we get to see Palin at a real unscripted town hall meeting?
    Why did the GOP have to send an army of lawyers BACK to Alaska?
    Why are the Republicans cooking up the story that the Obama campaign is endorsing the idea that she can't run a family and the white house? I never heard that from on National Liberal.
    Why is Bush speaking at the GOP and the rest of the speeches given the rest of the night are covering McCain for not being like Bush?
    Take the issue of her child out of it. There are real questions to ask.

    September 2, 2008 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  15. Tom

    You know what they say about the VP pick: First, do no harm. This reflects poorly on McCain's judgment. And now they are stuck with her. God help us if they get elected.

    September 2, 2008 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  16. Virginian

    Governor Palin is an irresponsible mother. With her pro life belief, she knowingly conceived a child at age 44, taking on the high risk of a child birth complication. Unfortunately, the dice was cast and the family now has a Down syndrome baby. Not only that, apparently governor Palin's family value is not well established in her household, as her teenage child is now pregnant. The mother and father are totally accountable in both instances. Senator McCain needs to select a VP that can practice family value, not just to preach it. We deserve someone better.

    September 2, 2008 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  17. me

    This is funnier than Seinfeld!!!!!!!

    September 2, 2008 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  18. Just Saying

    Camp McSame is in full-blown freefall. HA!

    "McSame: Campaign First."

    September 2, 2008 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  19. don from california

    Also, David Gergen. You are absolutely the most gentlemanly voice in news. You are much appreciated.

    September 2, 2008 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  20. Frank in NYC

    How appropriate a Christian Rocker that just happens to be a hot 23 year old...Right up McCains Alley and hes able to pander to the christian fundamentalists too

    September 2, 2008 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  21. Amy Van Cleave

    Ms. Campbell Brown
    You to quit you're job, you are no longer effective in you're job. You're
    a mother and you can't be both. And a good parent and work too, right. So, do all us working mother's a favor, go home iron you're husbands shirts.

    September 2, 2008 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  22. Ty

    So McCain got mad at CNN because Campbell Brown dared to ask Tucker someone a question about Palin's foreign affair experience

    September 2, 2008 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  23. Diane Dagenais Turbide

    Good evening,

    I do not think they can. He has canceled is own argument. His judgment has been impaired; itis like driving under the influence and your vision becomes blurry and can no longer walk and talk straight!

    How can anything said then be rationale! Mr. Bush will say he is ready to lead... based on what...his experience learning from Bush!

    September 2, 2008 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  24. Lynda and John

    The people I know that are voting republican are only doing so because that is how their daddy voted and their daddy's daddy and so on and so on

    September 2, 2008 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  25. Leah

    McCain is USING Palin.
    McCain is insulting all American women!
    Shame on You John McCain.

    O and Joe '98

    September 2, 2008 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
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