What George Mason Experts Are Saying about…the Republican National Convention

Posted: September 1, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of occasional articles on what George Mason experts have to say about a current topic. These are personal opinions and do not reflect an endorsement by George Mason University.

The Republicans are facing two potential problems with their convention, according to Colleen Shogan, assistant professor in Public and International Affairs. “First, the primetime speakers—which include former Sen. John McCain, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—represent the ‘liberal’ wing of the party,” she says.

Colleen Shogan
Colleen Shogan
Photo courtesy Colleen Shogan

“Since Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution, the moderate faction of the GOP has been relegated to minority status. McCain, Giuliani, and Schwarzenegger are out of step with conservative Republicans on several social issues, including abortion and gay rights. When the primetime lineup is at odds with the policies espoused by the candidates, the convention cannot project a coherent, unified message.”

Moreover, Shogan says, Republicans must be wary of protestors who plan to disrupt the convention. “If dissidents gather more attention than the convention itself, it will be difficult for Bush to receive a bounce in the polls, which he will need to climb even with John Kerry.”

Mark Rozell, professor in the School of Public Policy, says President Bush has a tough tight-rope act to perform: balance the demands that he appear more moderate than his convention delegates, while at the same time motivating the core constituency of the GOP.

“It is a little known fact that turnout among evangelical conservatives dropped significantly from 1996 to 2000,” he says. “Thus, if Bush had done as well as Dole at mobilizing that constituency, the 2000 election never would have been close enough to have been contested. As a result, Bush needs to mobilize those evangelicals who sat on their hands on Election Day 2000. He cannot do that so easily by keeping social conservative leaders away from prominent roles at the convention and by ignoring the issues that social conservatives care about.”

Jeremy Mayer
Jeremy Mayer
Photo courtesy Jeremy


One interesting thing to watch as the convention develops is what goes on outside the convention, notes Jeremy Mayer, assistant professor in the School of Public Policy.

“The Bush campaign has shown a lack of tolerance for dissent unseen since the Nixon campaign of 1972,” he says. “Bush campaign operatives, working with local and federal security officials, have ejected people from rallies just for wearing Kerry shirts, and have engaged in unprecedented screenings of audiences to shield the president from any hostile questions or comments. Early signs indicate the authorities in New York are going along with that tone, by preventing demonstrators from getting legal permits anywhere near the convention hall and refusing to allow large demonstrations in Central Park.”

At the same time, Mayer points out, the fervor and anger of the antiwar and anti-Bush movements continues to rise. “We may be heading for a momentous clash, which could greatly aid Bush’s reelection hopes. If the authorities continue to refuse to permit protests near the hall, it is likely that thousands of demonstrators will engage in unlawful demonstrations. If the New York police try to enforce the law, the results could be bloody and prolonged.”

Mayer believes that just as the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention aided Nixon’s campaign, unrest and blood this year would assist President Bush by depicting his opponents as dangerous anarchists and radicals. “Add the possibility of terrorism to the mix, and the potential for chaos becomes high. John Kerry has to be praying for large, but peaceful, demonstrations against Bush. The current election climate favors Kerry slightly, but a dramatic upheaval at the Republican convention could be the answer to [Bush political strategist] Karl Rove’s prayers for a change in the dynamic of this presidential race.”

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