"Attack Night" - to use the proper lingo - has been cancelled. Republican convention planners saw no upside this time around in the traditional second night fare of hitting-the-Democrats-with-both-rhetorical-barrels. Such verbal pyrotechnics might rouse the GOP faithful, but they would also dim the positive platitudes-with-a-purpose that are meant to shine for the cameras at this week's convention at the First Union Center.
After all, Monday's events in the City of Brotherly Love stuck to the Republicans' rosy script:
- Retired general Colin Powell and George W. Bush's wife Laura gave upbeat prime-time speeches.
- Convention delegates formally nominated Bush for president - a formality with zero doubt over the outcome.
- An unauthorized anti-poverty march disrupted Philly traffic for a while, but is otherwise peaceful.
McCain's recent performance at the Shadow Convention suggests that the "straight talk" crusader for campaign finance reform won't rock the Republican boat on Tuesday night.
Only days ago, the senator was booed for touting Bush's "reform" credentials at that counter-convention partly devoted to his signature cause. If McCain was ever going to deviate from the GOP's Philadelphia Story and launch an acidic barb at the Texas governor who's raised tens of millions of campaign dollars in soft money, wouldn't it have been there and then?
No, the senator will likely sing the Bush camp's pre-selected, pre-packaged tune on an issue where both sides share common ground and are most comfortable with each other. McCain can evoke the dramatic aura of his POW experience and invoke his national security credentials to bolster the less-seasoned Bush. Irony is, if Republicans had kept their "Attack Night" theme, McCain might have been an ideal choice for a second night convention speaker, anyway. After all, he vowed during the GOP primaries that he "would beat Al Gore like a drum" if he got the nomination.
If McCain's good behavior this week is perhaps an audition to be Bush's Secretary of Defense, then Bush is showcasing his putative national security team at the convention. Colin Powell - Monday night's headliner - has been mooted as a possible Secretary of State. McCain's name, of curse, has been mentioned for the Pentagon's top job. And last but not least, the name of Condoleeza Rice has surfaced as a possible National Security Adviser.
Such a team would be a Republican dream. Even the possibility of that high-octane combo with two talented African-Americans on board - Powell and Rice - strikes a subtle inclusive note for Bush during his coronation week that would be regarded as anything but token if it did indeed happen. Smart politics for a "compassionate conservative" who says he's a "different kind of Republican," too.
Still, Bush risks underscoring concerns that he's a "lightweight" by surrounding himself with these stars. Except for McCain, all of the national security heavyweights with prime-time convention appearances - Powell, Rice, and his running mate Dick Cheney who will speak on Wednesday night - have ties to his father's administration. Bush might find it hard convincing voters that "it isn't your father's Republican Party anymore" if his supporting cast reeks of Restoration.