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. Gergen rules

    Let's hope America hasn't become totally masochistic, Greg. S.

    September 2, 2008 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  2. Tyrone Brown

    I am so disappointeed with McCain. He is treating the American people and this election as if it some kind of joke. Country First is the theme of his convention? How does the Palin pick, the current vetting and his support of Bush policies speak to that?

    America deserves better than McCain.

    Obama/Biden '08

    September 2, 2008 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  3. Leah

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

    O and Joe '08

    September 2, 2008 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  4. Carole-FL

    You're always 'right on the money!" Calm, cool and armed with facts – a pleasure to watch! You thought the DNC got off to a slow start. I did too. However, compared to the Dems, this is anesthesiology. With all this pandering to the Evangelicals, his VP choice, I think McCain really wants to throw this.

    September 2, 2008 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  5. Patti in Garner

    I think it is wise to remember that at least 8 Presidents have not completed their terms of office – from a short 30 days (William Henry Harrison) to a long 13 years (FDR). I am not concerned about Sarah Palin as Vice President, I am concerned about her as President if McCain were to die or become incapacitated early in his term. Obama has spent the last few years foreign relations, knows world leaders, and is a constitutional scholar. As my son is currently serving in Iraq, my blood run cold with the thought that this woman might become his Commander-In-Chief through a whim of fate!

    September 2, 2008 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  6. Mike, Vancouver

    Why would John McCain even vett someone who is up for impeachment in Alaska??????????

    I don't think that a PTA meeting with the Iranian wierdo has wings let alone a laugh fest.

    Have you ever heard Iran Laugh, I mean the whole country and every other one with Putin saying "What are you goning to do Sarah if John disappears.

    This is toooooo risky. Not just for a month let alone the next 4 years. She will have to get Patreus to teach her what to do, and where to shoot.

    Today, the USA is wayoff it's mark when it comes to the Rupublican Party.

    September 2, 2008 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  7. Jacob

    McCain-Palin will win. Sarah was a brilliant selection. She has tons of experience as a mayor and as a Governess for almost two years. Strong family values will always trump a brilliant orator like Obama!

    September 2, 2008 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  8. activist mom

    well...I think that answered your question! LOL

    As long as the Dems get out the vote, WE'RE IN!!! Wooot.

    *Happy Dance*

    September 2, 2008 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  9. Brian from Tennessee

    Senator McCain made a snap pick as a reaction to the DNC Convention. This type of snap judgement is what got us into Iraq. This type of snap judgement is what helped derail our economy. Senator McCain's judgement is the real issue issue on the table. He has lots of being wrong. 90% voting with the President wrong. I feel sorry for Govn. Palin. She probably would have done well for Alaska. Now see is finished as a state politician, and she has been fed to the wolves....

    September 2, 2008 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  10. Carl29 what to laugh at the irony of all this: First, McCain has been preaching about the danger of election someone with zero foreign experience, "in this dangerous world." However, he picked the least experienced candidate of the GOP pack. See how sound McCain's judgment is?

    Second, Ms. Palin preaches, or at least used to, abstinence only and moral values. Now, we find out that her own daughter missed those sermons. See how ironic?

    September 2, 2008 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  11. Jeb

    This is a waste of time. The Republicans have already lost.

    Ron Paul has more people attending his convention than at the RNC. How sad is that.

    September 2, 2008 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  12. Gergen Rules

    They also need to apologize to the US military and ask forgiveness

    then turn Bush and Cheney over to the authorities

    with that I would vote republican for the rest of my life

    September 2, 2008 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  13. JungleJ

    I think the media will successfully slime the VP candidate, it has already started. That will keep the McCain ticket on the defensive until the election.
    This could backfire, as she has had some real problems people can relate to. And given her performance in Alaska, she would be a breath of fresh air in the inbred, narrowly partisan world of Washington DC.
    She is no less experienced than Obama, no matter what anybody says. If she was a he, no one of any intelligence would even debate it.

    Gender bias in this country runs deeper than any racial divisions. Hillary found that out, it's not about experience or "change."

    September 2, 2008 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  14. The Oracle

    I think it will be rough for the Repubs. I'm watching now and this is some of the most boring stuf I"VE EVER SEEN!!!!!! I agree with all of your points as far as what they have to accomplish tonight though. I also think they need to refrain from any sexist attacks. Those can and will backfire....

    September 2, 2008 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  15. Will

    It's a sad sight. I've seen more people and more energy in crowds at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

    September 2, 2008 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  16. Becca, CO

    What a mess for the Republican Party. They deserve it.

    Go Obama/Biden 2008

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

    So this is news but Biden calling himself the next president isn't?

    It is no wonder people think CNN is liberal.

    September 2, 2008 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  18. Ron Canada.

    One more for Obama, he has been campaigning for change,(reform)
    since day one. So now John thinks it's a good thing.What happend to
    I wonder what Putin and the rest of the world think of the developements of the last few days.

    September 2, 2008 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  19. Mark Ponemon

    How dare McCain put this country in jeopardy by nominating a person whom may be a wonderful person however, I don't feel she is any where near qualified to be a heart beat away from being President. I have a feeling he did this to get back at the party for not allowing him to choose Joe Lieberman, of all the choices he picked the least qualified. I AM NOW VOTING DEMOCRATIC...

    September 2, 2008 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  20. tuff Col. Oh

    they can do whatever they want at there convention they are not going to win in nov. this convention is hard to watch, there is no chemistry, no substance, just alot of old people, doing nothing, just because you were a fighter pilot doesn't make you fit to be president, they are a bunch old idiots if they think the american people are going to put another republican in office, i pray not

    September 2, 2008 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  21. nadeem

    No more shoes can drop.

    Too late a busload of shoes keep on dropping.

    Just in the last hour:

    – She was a member of and addressed a party that wants Alaska to succeed from the union

    – She gave a speech at a church saying the war in Iraq was mandated by God

    – She went to washington to lobby for Earmarks for her state

    Sarah Paulin
    So Little experience / so much baggage

    September 2, 2008 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  22. Richard F.

    Thank you David Rodham Gergen!

    September 2, 2008 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  23. Lynda and John

    Obama represents "We the people" much better than McCain.
    I think he will do all he can to 'serve' the people. McCain will represent the standard Republican views.-not good

    September 2, 2008 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  24. PJ

    SeattleVoter...I can can say is AMEN!

    September 2, 2008 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  25. Arjun

    Biggest challenge for the GOP ticket:
    Separate McCain from Bush. Reintroduce McCain as a reformer with the added advantage of experience.

    September 2, 2008 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
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