The fact that President Bush chose to address the Republican convention in St. Paul by live remote from the White House speaks volumes about relations between the two. The party was visibly relieved when he felt obliged to cancel his scheduled appearance in the hall, but the president, thanks to Air Force One, could have shown in person another night. No one there seemed disappointed he did not plan to do so.
He remains personally popular with the party faithful but politics are rarely sentimental and Bush is fast receding in the rear-view mirror as the Republicans adjust to their presidential candidate, John McCain, and their new object of fascination, his surprise — and surprising — running mate, Sarah Palin. And, in any case, the delegates don’t want to be reminded of the failures of Bush’s second term.
That brings up a striking disconnect of this convention. Speaker after speaker, most notably Fred Thompson, showing a fire and eloquence absent from his brief presidential bid, denounced Washington and its evil ways — bloated bureaucracies, corrupt spending, arrogant Beltway elites indifferent to the welfare of ordinary Americans. Who do they think has been running the country?
A Republican has been in the White House the last eight years. Republicans have controlled Congress most of the last 14 years — the House for 12 of those years, the Senate for 10. They might be in control still except the voters rebelled at what they viewed as corrupt, arrogant, spendthrift GOP leadership, especially in the House. But you don’t hear that mentioned at the convention and it would probably be rude to bring it up.
The party’s selective memory was also in evidence in the huge ovation given former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara. Many of those cheering were likely part of the Republican right that, disaffected by Bush senior’s breaking of his "no new taxes” pledge, sat on their hands in 1992 while he lost to Bill Clinton.
In a sense, this was the Republican Party’s farewell to the Bush political dynasty — the two presidents and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who declined entreaties by Bush loyalists that he try to succeed his brother.
And so the Republican Party, to all appearances united, embarks on the fall campaign behind a presidential candidate — John McCain — it didn’t really want, and a vice presidential candidate — Sarah Palin — it doesn’t really know.