GOP Analyst Breaks Down Democratic Convention

The Democratic National Convention saw speeches from Hillary and Bill Clinton as well as Michelle Obama. Republican media strategist Stuart Stevens says that though there were successes, the convention was defensive rather than offensive in nature.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

We wondered how the show in Denver looks to a media-savvy Republican. And Stuart Stevens fills that description. He's a GOP media strategist who has been watching the convention from Stowe, Vermont.

And Stuart, you're not working for the McCain campaign, but you did work for the Romney campaign earlier this year.

M: I did, yes.

SIEGEL: Well, one of the objectives of the Democrats at their convention was to make viewers feel more comfortable with Barack Obama. Barack Obama, family man, regular guy. Have they succeeded?

M: I think so. I thought Michele's speech Monday night was fantastic. And her brother's introduction was equally as good. I think if that was their goal, I think it's a somewhat defensive goal. But if that was, I think they definitely helped themselves.

SIEGEL: You say a somewhat defensive goal. That the Democrats, you think, could be or ought to be more on the offense, should have been more on the offense?

M: I think so. It doesn't seem to be in their DNA to be able to consistently articulate a simple contrast message. I don't really understand why they can't do that. But it sort of has the passion of a Unitarian wedding. It seems like they're trying to be nice to a lot of different people who are going to vote for them anyway.

SIEGEL: But they keep saying, every speaker seems to say, if you want four more years like the Bush presidency, vote for McCain. If you want a change, vote for Obama, that seems to be the line.

M: If that's the message people are getting, I think that's not a dumb move on their part. I just look at these different agendas, and they have a confusing agenda every night.

SIEGEL: The main event last night, Joe Biden. The Biden speech, a success?

M: I think so. I thought it was a good speech. Just that the entire tone of the convention to me is more defense than offense. It's as if they believe there are these pieces of the Obama picture they need to fill and they're going to dedicate a lot of the convention to that and also uniting the party.

And I suspect it's a very different kind of convention than the kind of campaign that the Obama campaign ran. And I suspect it's because the Obama campaign really ran as an anti-establishment candidacy, an insurgency candidacy, and a convention, by definition, is the ultimate establishment event.

And you know, one other factor to keep in mind here is that, you know, the Obama campaign didn't secure the nomination until very late. And there were a lot of plans for this convention that had been put in place before they had the nomination. And there's no doubt that when they started planning for this convention, everyone assumed that it would be a Hillary Clinton convention. And having gone through this process in 2000 where, in the Bush campaign, we didn't secure the nomination until some time in March...

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

M: ...you know, you're not getting to pick where the house goes or - the house is already really built, all you get to do is really furnish it. And that's - it was much easier in 2004 when, you know, there was some reason to believe that President Bush would be the nominee.

SIEGEL: Well, next week, it's the Republicans' turn. What's their best game on - what's their best mini-series next week on television?

M: Well, I think, in many ways, the goals for the Republican Convention are more difficult to accomplish. And I think that they'll - my bet is they'll pull it off quite well. Republicans tend, for one reason or another, to be good at this stuff.

On the one hand, you need to rally the base, which is very positively inclined towards President Bush. On the other hand, as the first President Bush did in '88, you have to separate yourself from the incumbent and to establish yourself as your own person.

SIEGEL: And the message that you should convey?

M: I think the message is going to be straight up John McCain is a unique maverick in American politics that, agree with him or disagree with him, he calls them like he sees them, that he puts country first and he is going to be someone you can trust in the Oval Office.

SIEGEL: Well, Stuart Stevens, thanks a lot for talking with us today, and I hope we'll hear from you again.

M: Okay. Enjoyed it.

SIEGEL: That's GOP media strategist Stuart Stevens telling us what he's made of the convention so far from viewing it on television in Stowe, Vermont.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.