What Republicans Must Accomplish In St. Paul

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, Andrea Seabrook talks with host Jacki Lyden about John McCain and the GOP strategy to win the White House. Gary Bauer, president of American Values, and Clark Judge, managing director of the White House Writers Group and a former Reagan White House speechwriter, share their thoughts.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Now, however the Republicans decide to convene this week, they have some serious challenges. Last week, we asked our own Andrea Seabrook to walk us through what the Democrats had to accomplish at their convention. Today, Andrea's here to talk about the Republicans and what they have to do. Hello there, Andrea.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Hi, there.

LYDEN: So first and foremost, as we just heard from David Welna, Hurricane Gustav has the potential to change everything at the convention. In fact, talk about a game-changer.

SEABROOK: Yeah, it sure does. I mean, first of all, the Republicans have to figure out who's going to be at the convention. There are lawmakers who won't show up, obviously. They'll be dealing with that. Members of Congress, analysts said that it's not necessarily a bad thing because John McCain is walking a tightrope here. He's trying to do a lot of different things at once.

I spoke this week with Gary Bauer. He's a major figure among Christian conservatives, a former presidential candidate himself, and he's now president of a non-profit organization called American Values, and he said that Democrats are trying to paint McCain as being really close to George W. Bush, and he doesn't think that that charge will stick.

Mr. GARY BAUER (President, American Values): I think for most Americans, they realize that George Bush's presidency's over, and so they're going to look at these two candidates and decide which of the candidates are closer to their values. I think John McCain has shown a great deal of independence on some major issues from President Bush.

SEABROOK: So Bauer thinks that independent streak may help him with independents, but it's not so great with the Republican Party base. Of course, John McCain has to court them, too, and it's not really a question whether the Republican base will vote for Republicans. They certainly will. The question is how many of them will, and will they go out to work for John McCain?

Now last week, John McCain made the choice of Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, to be his vice-presidential running mate. Choosing her is directly aimed at the Republican base, and a large part of this convention will be about introducing Sarah Palin to Republicans and to voters in the whole.

Still, what else can John McCain do to motivate the ground forces?

Mr. BAUER: I think he just needs to continue what he's been doing for the last several weeks now, and part of that, and a very important part of it, is to really analyze for Republican-oriented voters what a Barack Obama presidency would mean.

I think, you know, in elections, people vote for somebody, but they often also vote against someone, and I think in the last couple of months, as the left-wing nature of Barack Obama's agenda's become clearer, that enthusiasm level is picking up for Senator McCain.

SEABROOK: Now Gary Bauer says, of course, that religious conservatives are a large part of this base, and they are not John McCain's natural allies, but Bauer says he does think they'll come around.

Mr. BAUER: I think for religious conservatives, you've got a very clear choice here. You've got Senator McCain, who's got a strong pro-life voting record, or you've got Barack Obama, who has one of the most radical records on issues like abortion of anybody I think ever nominated.

SEABROOK: But he does speak about his faith and about, in fact, Jesus Christ, far more than John McCain does.

Mr. BAUER: Well, but the Christian voters are not selecting the pastor of their church. They're selecting the president of the United States, and what matters in selecting the president is what that individual is going to do on public policy.

SEABROOK: Now, there is one other thing that McCain has to do at this convention, just like Obama had to do at his convention, and that is give one heck of an acceptance speech.

The task may be a little harder for McCain than it was for Obama because Obama's speech last week was so well-received. So in this point, I spoke with Clark Judge. He was a speech-writer for Ronald Reagan. He now heads a PR firm called the White House Writers Group. Here's how he said McCain can respond to Obama's speech.

Mr. CLARK JUDGE (White House Writers Group): Senator McCain should not try to be Senator Obama. He should be himself, and I'm absolutely confident he will be. He - if he has demonstrated anything in the primary season it's that he's his own man in every nuance.

SEABROOK: Can you give me an appraisal of John McCain's speaking style and what advice you would give him going into that Thursday's speech?

Mr. JUDGE: Well, his style is direct. He uses stories extremely well, and if he brings and conveys those qualities in his speech on Thursday night, he'll be dazzling.

SEABROOK: So to recap, Jacki, John McCain has to be independent to attract independents, he has to be a staunch Republican partisan to attract partisans and the base, including religious conservatives, and he has to give a great speech, one that finds his own voice.

LYDEN: Andrea, there is one other potential spoiler. I spoke with Ron Paul, one of the Republican primary candidates, who caused quite a sensation, I think you'd have to agree, because he got up to a quarter of the vote in some states. He's hosting his own counter-rally in St. Paul this week, and he said that his libertarian ideas are being excluded from the Republican convention, and that's why he wants to hold his own almost-equal-sized rally, I guess. Here's what he had to say.

Mr. RON PAUL (Libertarian Politician): We do want to be included on our terms. We don't want to be included just for the sake of inclusion. We have to believe in something. Republicans over the years have bragged about limited government and personal freedom and balanced budgets. Well, it's turned out to be a joke.

So if you go there on - just to go and support the positions, which have nothing to do with the Republican principles, it wouldn't have any meaning.

LYDEN: But I'm not sure this is going to have a whole lot of meaning for Republicans going to the McCain-Palin convention, are you?

SEABROOK: It's hard to say at this point, in the same way that it's hard to say how the Hurricane Gustav will affect the convention. We need to know how many people are going to show up at Ron Paul's rally, how long it will last, these sorts of things, but it's something that could distract the media and the country from the Republican convention, and that would not be good for John McCain.

LYDEN: NPR's Andrea Seabrook. And you can hear Andrea anchoring NPR's live coverage of the Republican National Convention this week. Thanks, and good luck, Andrea.

SEABROOK: Thank you, Jacki.

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