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. K Bartee

    As a 59 year old woman, I am truly afraid for this country with the Palin choice. I am firmly in the Democrat camp now, after voting Republican the past 40 years. I do not want to have my grandchildren live in the past on women's issues. We are not FLDS women. Sincerely, A never again Minnesota Republican

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

    More of the Same from McPain - sorry, but no one is interested in giving a 72 year old "maverick" (e.g. loose cannon) and a controversial governor who wanted her state to secede from the Union another 4 years to screw up the country. Period.

    September 2, 2008 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  3. No McCain

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    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 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  4. Phil Newton in Murphy, Oregon

    #4) Find new vice presidential candidate.

    September 2, 2008 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  5. Ron

    The real divided party

    September 2, 2008 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  6. BKoi

    Senator Palin 's problem is that she should have put her family first ! Not Country, as McCain says he does ! WHERE and WHEN has McCain been surging ahead , David ? He has never been ahead in the polls ! You are too kind ,and your statements lately have also been blurred ,.somewhat . This ticket is fatally flawed . McCain is too old , too steeped in HIS own past . He has become maudlin , in his dotage . It's time to hang up the shotguns now , we need tough diplomacy , we need a new direction, and a new fresh approach ! The USA has to do this or it will not survive as the HOPE of the free world.

    September 2, 2008 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  7. vcc

    David, I believe the Democrats will sustain their big mo from the convention because the Republicans has self-destructed with the Palin pick. I cannot fathom putting my pregnant teenage daughter through the scrutiny of the free press. She is emotional and her self-esteem has probably taken a hit and then Mom is only thinking of her career and living in the White House. What a shame this family didn't put family first.

    September 2, 2008 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  8. Baylady

    Since Palin got the nod, McSame is now McPain!

    September 2, 2008 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  9. Independent

    John McCain – 30+ years in Washington, age 72, 90% voting record with Bush and "Maverick" (as he claims)

    Barack Obama – Teenage mother, raised on Foodstamp, Harvard Graduate, extensive record of public service – thats the real maverick, for you and for me

    Yes we can!!! and we can now!!!

    September 2, 2008 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  10. Latino 4 Obama

    Ha ha ha!!! So this is where everyone is at right now? You don't wanna fall sleep hearing THE PAST-SAME repeat again and again on how things USED to be instead of how things WILL BE after the Obama Era starts -though their "tomorrow" is already our present.- Now, back to Utube. Back to the future!!!

    September 2, 2008 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  11. Mark from Arlington, Texas

    When are we going to see a sit-down interview with Palin? I want to see her grilled by the media and see what she says and how she handles herself. Perhaps McCain can trust his "gut" when making important decisions, but I don't want my future to depend on his "gut" decisions.

    September 2, 2008 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  12. God Help America!!!

    The biggest challenge would be to convince America that a third term of bush is right for America.

    Good Luck, I would rather leave this country than to face that bleak reality.

    September 2, 2008 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  13. Packer

    The sad issue about the McCain-Palin ticket is - hardly anyone has addressed the fact that Senator McCain , as nice a fellow as he is, has just turned 72 and has Malignant Melanoma, a potentially fatal disease that can claim his life before his term is over, if elected. Do you trust Sarah Palin to take over the baton, realizing how complex are the problems facing the world, not to mention our domestic problem?

    September 2, 2008 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  14. michael MA

    With you Lance – was looking forward to serious debate and hard to fathom that happening now – have always considered the candidates (dem voted Bush first term, not sure Gore was the right choice) and Obama supporter way back when – sad GOP imploding.

    September 2, 2008 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  15. Perusing-through


    The nation has had enough of the ultra-nasty religious-right-wing conservatives like "Monica Goodling" and "Tom DeLay". Sarah Palin is just another one of those thick-headed self-righteous ideologues that you cannot have an intelligent and respectable discussion of the issues. It is got to always be there way.


    September 2, 2008 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  16. Leslie

    Being an independent voter from Boston, I have been on the fence between both parties. I was a Hillary supporter and wasn't sure about senator Obama. That being said, there is no way I would vote for McCain now. His pick of Palin for VP sent me completely over the fence for Obama !!

    September 2, 2008 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  17. Protest David as a political advisor

    David needs to think what he is saying before he opens his mouth he has been around tooo long and needs to pack it in and move it out.
    What happens to all the polls when Obama is
    It is obivous who David is behind more of the same.....

    September 2, 2008 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  18. ummm

    This is the most boring convention I have ever seen. No wonder McCain picked Palin. The only time people clap is when the conservative values of the right wing of the Republican Party are brought up. Also, that montage of Lincoln was disgusting and highly suggestive. McCain needs to do better than that in order to sway independent voters.

    September 2, 2008 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  19. Ron Tebbutt

    Greetings .... Grand-ma to be Sarah, has , made a statement to the world that ,increased Population , is a good idea, not by words but by her presence...... When other countries are concerned in lowering birth rates, Americians fail to asisst by example.... Consequently, the media is doing a dance.. High World birth rate s add , to global warming... Mother earth needs , a little more loving, an education, The media must support the many countries, who strive to become better, by engauging , an supporting. groups an organizations., that value good family planning . Ron From Ontario Canada

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

    Research is paramount to change.. Democrats support research much more than republicans. My career of over 25 years has been in research and my income has suffered when the republicans have been in office.

    September 2, 2008 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  21. Peter of Oregon

    Many of us questioned McCain's temperement for the job of President, and now he's confirmed that he doesn't have the right judgement with the hastily made pick up Palin for his VP without properly vetting her. He needs to show the American people that he can think with a level head and not shoot from the hip on important decisions.

    September 2, 2008 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  22. Larry Robinson

    McCain "surged upward." What a fallacy of truth. You can look at the 2 parties ths way: Republicans sit and stare at a person who they see as themselves. Democrats saw a man who stood there and saw himself among the 85,000 in the crowd. "Service" does nothing to help millions hurting to their cores in America. It simply invites the Republicans to think McCain is Roosevelt and is an image of their old selfs.

    September 2, 2008 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  23. Toto Too

    Sad to see the Republicans throwing out the "he will raise your taxes" statements again. Seems the only way for them to win is by scare tactics. I have been told for over seven years that Bush cut my taxes. I sure can't see it. No one that I know can tell me how much they are saving from the supposed Bush tax cuts either. Pretty simple math to me, income on one side of the balance sheet, expenses on the other side. Taxes fall under the expense side. Two guesses as to which side of the balance sheet is increasing rapidly under the Bush policies.

    Don't get me wrong, I always liked McCain. If he is going to be the voice of change, I want to hear what he will do different than Bush.

    September 2, 2008 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  24. Ron democrat turned independent

    cnn you can run but you can't hide all the relevent questions about obama will be answered if not on your network then on fox or abc and you can limp into it after the best parts are exposed but believe me the public will have a full expose before november

    September 2, 2008 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  25. Kerry Chapman

    I was a devoted DEMOCRAT. But since the Democrat Convention remake of SuperStar Jesus Christ and Woodstock. OBAMA has
    given me no substance. No Plan. I wanted more. Instead the
    Democratic Convention showed just another Celeberity with no
    real proven record as a Legistator/ as a Senator. INEXPERIENCE
    vs Proven Leadership. Which do you follow the GLOW of a STAR or
    What. Thats what the Democratic Convention remake of Woodstock and Jesus Christ Superstar brought to me. SO Independent I shall
    become and vote for the experience.

    September 2, 2008 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
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