Xcel Energy Center, Saint Paul, Minnesota, Labor Day Week, 2008 — The political arm-twisting had begun as soon as the delegates arrived for the Republican National Convention. It was becoming obvious that no one would be nominated on the first ballot, and with no candidate clearly dominating the field, a brokered convention seemed inevitable.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s campaign team was working the delegates as if they already owned them. The campaign’s approach was one of entitlement and inevitability: “Rudy is our guy, like it or not.” Still, Giuliani was going to need to add at least 556 votes to his 703 delegates to win the nomination.
The campaign of Arizona Senator John McCain was somewhat more persuasive, but no less heavy-handed. In an attitude reminiscent of Bob Dole, circa 1996, McCain’s theme seemed to be, “It’s my turn.” But it was going to take more than double his 618 committed delegates for McCain to emerge as the nominee.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was personally contacting all 113 uncommitted delegates, promising to make their priorities his own. He would need to add a great deal more than their number to his 512 to reach the 1,259 necessary to clinch the nomination.
Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with 328 delegates, and California Congressman Duncan Hunter, with 243, found themselves battling for the scraps of a disillusioned conservative movement that was having trouble believing in anyone anymore.
Five candidates had come to the convention with delegates committed to their cause. None was close to the number needed to sew up the nomination. The deal-making began early Monday morning, with three factions vying for candidates who had never entered a single primary election.
The first group was loyal to Jeb Bush. It was widely believed that with his solid performance as governor of Florida, Jeb would have been the odds-on favorite to win the nomination and the election in 2008 — if his name was anything other than Bush. Still, there were those who thought he could overcome the legacy of his brother and his father to carry on the dynasty, a notion Bush was conspicuously refusing to downplay.
Yet another group was rallying around a draft-Fred Thompson movement. The former Tennessee Senator had nearly been lured into the race by enticing poll numbers in the spring of 2007. After announcing that he had battled cancer three years earlier, many pundits had concluded that he was about to jump into the race. But in the end, Thompson had decided to stay with his lucrative acting job as District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC’s “Law and Order” and his duties as a substitute for radio commentator Paul Harvey. When it became obvious that no one would win on the first ballot, Thompson’s supporters persisted, believing that their man would find the temptation of a deadlocked convention too great to resist. They were right.
Finally, a group of die-hard Dick Cheney supporters announced that they intended to place the vice president’s name in nomination. Although Cheney had made it clear for eight years that he had no intention of running for the presidency, there were those who believed he was still the most competent and conservative candidate the GOP could nominate. He wasted no time in quashing such talk.
“I have said from day one, in every way I know how, that I am not interested in being president,” Cheney said at a hastily-called press conference on Monday afternoon. “My health will not permit it. I don’t know how long my life will be, but I am looking forward to enjoying the rest of it in retirement with my family. I am here to reiterate that I will not be a candidate for President of the United States under any circumstances. In fact, if nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve.”
Neither Jeb Bush nor Fred Thompson issued any such disclaimer. Quite the contrary: both were interested in their party’s nomination, and as the first ballot drew near, anticipation flowed like an electric current through the arena full of delegates.