Politics 2004Week of September 13

Manhattan Diary

(Nearly 5,000 delegates and alternates converged on New York City last week for the Republican National Convention–although, as my HUMAN EVENTS colleague Dave Freddoso put it, “It was so obviously pre-determined, they might as well have e-mailed their votes in.” But they did show up in the Big Apple, as did another 5,000-plus reporters, officials, and political groupies. They all cheered on George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and other convention speakers, and sampled free food and libation from more than 1,000 parties and corporate suites.

It took a little work, but I found some newsworthy political stories in and outside Madison Square Garden. Among them. . . .)

Slaying the Favorite Son

There was a topic that caused spirited debate and controversy among GOPers, but it came up before the opening gavel of the convention–in fact, at the lone meeting of the convention Rules Committee, held on the Friday (August 27) before opening night. It was fitting that the session was held at the Jacob Javits Center, many conservatives concluded, because Javits-like moderate and liberal GOPers on the 108-member committee (or, “content-free Republicans,” as many on the right characterized them) emerged triumphant in the key battle.

A motion was made by Virginia’s GOP National Committeeman and veteran conservative activist Morton Blackwell to amend a 1972 party rule that requires a candidate for President to have a majority of delegates from no fewer than five states to have his or her name placed in nomination at the convention. The most obvious effect of this rule has been to eliminate the “favorite sons” who formerly held together their own state’s delegations, while pulling few or no votes from elsewhere. By changing the number “five” to “one” and “states” to just “state,” Blackwell’s proposal would have resurrected the favorite son (or “favorite daughters,” such as was then-Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine at the 1964 convention).

As to why Republicans adopted such a rule when Democrats never did (“It’s un-democratic,” quipped veteran Democratic political consultant Bob Keefe about the GOP’s five-state rule), even that is shrouded in mystery. Shortly before his death last year, I asked former Florida Rep. (1952-70) Bill Cramer, who chaired the Rules Committee at the ’72 GOP convention in Miami, where the five-state restriction came from and what the arguments were for such a rules change. “I honestly don’t recall,” Cramer told me, “but I think it came from someone in the [Nixon] White House who was a political consultant type.” He added his recollection that there was no debate on the five-state measure and that it was enacted on a voice vote by the Rules Committee.

Similarly, former Republican National Committeeman Clarke Reed of Mississippi, who served on the convention Rules Committee in 1972 and 2004, told me he was unable to remember anything about the origin or any discussion at all about the five-state rule 32 years ago. “You’ve got to remember that, in Miami that year, I was working for more than a week with about four hours sleep a night to enact the small-state rule,” said Reed, referring to the rules change that year much favored by conservatives that would award states bonus delegates at the next convention for delivering their electoral votes to the GOP and electing senators and governors. At the Javits Center two weeks ago, Reed seconded Blackwell’s motion to upend the five-state rule.

Tenth Amendment vs. TV Time

“Of course, I’m for it–I’m for the 10th Amendment and states’ rights!” declared former State Rep. Perry Hooper, Jr., a Rules Committee member from Alabama. There was poignancy in Hooper’s being a vocal champion of what quickly became known as the “favorite son” rule: When the roll of states was called at the 1968 convention and commenced with “Alabama,” Hooper’s namesake-father, later chief justice of the state, yielded to California for the purpose of nominating their favorite son, Gov. Ronald Reagan. Although Reagan would win votes from other states and place third in the balloting, he came to the convention as his state’s favorite son and was backed by a majority of delegates from only one other state, North Carolina. Under the current rules, Reagan could not have been placed in nomination.

Another speaker for the change was Marsha Barbour, Rules Committee member from Mississippi. Her husband is Gov. Haley Barbour,

But the most passionate speaker for the “favorite son” rule was a committee member without a long history of attending conventions. “I was ten years old when this five-state rule was passed,” said Michael DerManuoel of Fresno, Calif., “and I don’t understand it. Why are states limited in offering their favorite sons and daughters as possible alternatives for President?” DerManuoel went on to note that in his life, “every Republican ticket except one has included a Nixon, a Bush, or a Dole. One day, the party establishment will run out of candidates like this and a convention just may be spontaneous and have to consider lesser-known candidates from the grass-roots.”

But the measure lost in New York by a vote of 63 to 26. Most committee members were reluctant to rock the political boat at his convention by making a significant rules change. Anti-favorite son speakers also repeatedly made the argument that, were favorite sons permitted, with the nominating and seconding speeches and demonstrations, the convention balloting could be bumped well beyond prime time (forgetting, as Blackwell pointed out, “that there just might be greater network coverage of a convention if there were a genuine nomination fight”).

Offering post-mortems, outgoing Georgia GOP National Committeewoman Carolyn Meadows pointed out that conservatives such as herself were the premier backers of the favorite-son measure on the moderate-dominated Rules Committee. “There just aren’t as many of us [conservatives] in party offices as there used to be,” Meadows told me at a gala convention party hosted by HUMAN EVENTS, Radio America and a number of other conservative organizations. She cited a fellow guest, former Nebraska State Party Chairman Chuck Sigerson. Conservative stalwart Sigerson had indicated he would have backed the measure without hesitation; but he was no longer chairman and his more centrist successor David Kramer voted “no” on the Rules Committee.

Other supporters of the rules change generally agreed that they were most hurt by taking up their cause on short notice instead of adopting a long-term strategy to explain the measure to other committee members who might have been sympathetic had they understood it more fully. There was also a failure, supporters conceded, to fully explain the long-term impact of the rules change on national politics. As Blackwell pointed out, “the change would necessarily have extended the period it would take to nominate a candidate for President. It is not a good idea to nominate candidates in a short period. They need to be tested.”

While the favorite-son restoration lost in New York in ’04, there is little doubt that it will re-emerge at the ’08 convention. California’s DerManuoel said that “when you’re talking about getting rid of national regulations that weaken power of state parties, you know the issue will not go away. As our governor would say, ‘We’ll be back.'”

A New Nixon Comeback?

For only the second time since 1972, the name of Richard Nixon was mentioned prominently from the podium at a Republican National Convention. In his now-celebrated convention address, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recalled how, as a young Austrian immigrant to the United States in 1968, he asked a friend to translate television news reports of the presidential election for him. Upon concluding that Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey was for what he considered “socialism” and Republican Nixon was for the free market, Schwarzenegger said he decided that he liked Nixon and therefore would become a Republican when he became an American citizen. The crowd at the Garden ate it up and cheered wildly.

Not very long ago, it would have been unthinkable that a man considered one of the most popular Republican office-holders in the nation would cite possibly the most controversial Republican office-holder in the post-war years as his political inspiration. Indeed, the last real mention of Nixon’s name in a national convention address came in 1992, when a clip of the 37th President was shown in a party film. Also George H.W. Bush made a brief reference praising “Presidents Nixon and Ford” in his acceptance speech at Houston.

But times have changed and interest in and warmth for Nixon are clearly returning to the Republican Party. (In a not-too-complimentary column, Washington Post pundit Harold Meyerson likened convention addresses by Dick Cheney and Georgia Sen. Zell Miller to the brass-knuckled campaign speeches of the young Nixon and Joe McCarthy, asking whether today’s GOP was “the party of Nixon and McCarthy?”)

Coincidentally, someone who proved extremely popular with guests at that convention party that HUMAN EVENTS and Radio America helped cohost was Christopher Cox, son of the late President’s daughter Tricia and her husband Ed Cox. Fellow celebrants asked young (25) Cox, who was often seen by television audiences accompanying his rabid Yankee fan-grandfather to games at Yankee Stadium, if he was related to the California congressman of the same name. “No, but he’s a friend and I e-mail him a lot,” he replied. He also showed a strong interest in politics and noted that that very morning, he had gone to the famed Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem to hear a speech by New York Secretary of State Randy Daniels, a strong GOP prospect for higher office.

As to whether he will follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and run for office, Cox isn’t saying. Noting that he had finished Columbia Law School and just taken his bar exam, Cox told me “I’m just holding my breath until November, when I get the results.”