STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep, and this is John McCain:
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Candidate): Tonight I have a privilege given few Americans, the privilege of accepting our party's nomination for president of the United States.
(Soundbite of applause)
INSKEEP: He's no longer the presumptive nominee, as we've called him. He is the nominee, and with that, the general election has begun. Let's get some analysis this morning on the week that launched the McCain-Palin ticket. We've got two people here. David Frum is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former speechwriter for President Bush. Good morning.
Mr. DAVID FRUM (Former Speechwriter; Fellow, American Enterprise Institute): Good morning.
INSKEEP: And he's joined by Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist and pollster, and a frequent guest on this program. Mark, good morning to you once again.
Mr. MARK MELLMAN (Democratic Strategist, Pollster): Good morning, pleasure to be back.
INSKEEP: Let's start with David Frum. How'd Senator McCain do last night?
Mr. FRUM: He did fine, but he did not do superbly well. He had a decision to make. Would he talk about his biography, or would he talk about his promises, his plans for the future, or a little bit of both?
What I think we all discovered last night was the biography with John McCain is such an overwhelming, inescapable fact, that even when he's talking policy, he's talking about himself, and his fights with his fellow senators and his struggles and his very conflict-oriented view of politics and the world, and so that was re-presented last night.
I don't know that anybody who tuned in uncertain what to do about this extremely famous man got an argument as to why they should think differently about him.
INSKEEP: Mark Mellman?
Mr. MELLMAN: Well, you know, Senator McCain clearly is a hero. His story follows the archetypal hero story. He confronted this tremendous challenge, was changed by it, has a new mission, but he's got two fundamental problems.
First, he sets himself up as someone who's different from Washington. But the fact is he's been part of Washington for 25 years, enmeshed in the system of lobbyists and favors and special interests that he decries, yet he's part of it.
The second problem is he's trying to point himself out as an agent of change, but the reality is he is welded to George Bush on the two most important, overriding issues of this election, the war in Iraq and the economy. And you can't be an agent of change when you're welded to George Bush on the two fundamental issues facing the country.
INSKEEP: I want to ask you gentlemen about the tone of this speech. I could use terms like quiet, or dignified, or determined to describe McCain's speech. It seemed a lot less partisan than the speeches that preceded it. And David Frum, I'm interested to hear you say that you only thought it was fine. Would you have been happier if he'd given a rousing, partisan speech like, say, Sarah Palin's?
Mr. FRUM: No, that would've been a big mistake. I mean, one of the things going in - one of the background facts of this election is that the Republican core is smaller than it used to be. We see that measured in all kinds of ways.
So of course he needs to reach out. I think I agree with you in your choice of adjectives, that the speech was quiet, dignified. That could have been his special kind of appeal - the one last mission, there is something more that I have left to do. But then you'd have to give people a very clear idea of what that something was. And this speech didn't offer that.
It just reminded you, everybody - I think everybody likes John McCain, and it reminded you of the reasons why you would like him. The question is do you like him enough to give him your ballot for the presidency. What do you get out of it is the question you might ask.
INSKEEP: Mark Mellman, I want to challenge you on something you said when you said that McCain has a fundamental problem, that he's been part of Washington for so long. Didn't he get some advantage, though, by offering that biography that David Frum mentioned?
He's got that story that shows that he has challenged people. He has been combative. He has fought people on different issues throughout his life.
Mr. MELLMAN: Oh he certainly has fought people on various issues, but the reality is he's done favors for special interests, he's taken money from special interests, he's done their bidding as the chairman of the commerce committee that deals with business, so he's very much part of the establishment in Washington. But you do point up, I think, a fundamental contradiction in the whole convention.
On the one hand, you had the slash-and-burn personal attacks coming from Republican after Republican on the podium, including from Sarah Palin, and then you get John McCain standing up, saying I want to reach out across the aisle?
But which is it, reach out across the aisle or slaughter the opposition? It just wasn't clear. It was a contradiction, and I think voters walking away from this convention aren't really sure what Republicans are asking for.
Mr. FRUM: That's an interesting - I mean, as you look back on it, and you look back of the pair of the two conventions, each convention comments on the other, and each offers its own argument. And these conventions should be seen as whole stories.
We've made a transition. The conventions have nothing, really, to do. They have no business anymore. Sarah Palin gave her acceptance speech before she actually was formally nominated.
INSKEEP: I've got to stop you there, David Frum, I'm sorry to say. Thank you very much, appreciate your insights.
Mr. FRUM: Thank you.
Mr. MELLMAN: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And Mark Mellman as well, insights this morning from a Democrat and a Republican.