Posted: Aug. 31, 2004
By Celia Cohen
The roar that greeted Rudy Guliani was so huge, it seemed as though he was about to say, “I accept your nomination.”
Not a chance. Not here with these delegates, attending the first evening session Monday at the Republican national convention in New York City. They may love Guliani as the personification of Sept. 11 and as the law-and-order ex-prosecutor who turned his city around, but his politics are strictly New York.
The convention may be here, but its politics are deep in the heart of Texas.
This is the reality that U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle is dealing with. As a nationally recognized leader of the rump group of Republican moderates, Delaware’s lone congressman is spending his convention week pushing for a bigger say in party affairs for his like-minded allies.
The Republican Main Street Partnership, with Castle as its president, hosted a convention-eve party and also held a panel discussion called “Moderates + Conservatives = Republican Majority” with Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and Cabinet secretary. (Gingrich was the conservative, in case anyone was wondering.)
It says something that Gingrich participated and said nice things – “We would not have become a majority party and stayed a majority party without the moderates.”
This is the reality that the ascendant Republican conservatives are dealing with. As much as they disdain moderate politics, they need those votes if they are to re-elect George W. Bush.
After all, this president campaigned in that vein as a “compassionate conservative” – or perhaps a “kinder, gentler” conservative as his father might have said – not a cruise-control conservative.
It is the reason that the convention is trotting out Guliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger and the terminally independent John McCain. It could be a front. It also could be plain smart.
“They’re doing it because these are the most attractive names in the party. They’re doing it to cast a friendlier image,” Castle said. “If you read the platform and you listen to most speakers, you’re going to get the conservative message. If you turn on your television from 10 to 11 . . .”
Guliani in particular could not have done more to make the case that the party has room for people like him. “I’ve never seen so many Republicans in New York City. I finally feel at home,” he quipped.
Guliani lionized George Bush for his visit here on Sept. 14, 2001, three days after the terrorist attack, his words sheltering the president under the universal memory of his own transcendent resolve on that day and inoculating him against the jeering portrait of a leader so paralyzed that he stayed on in a classroom reading “My Pet Goat.”
It was a message this convention could not wait to hear. It had erupted earlier at McCain’s mention of Michael Moore and “Fahrenheit 911” as a “disingenuous filmmaker.”
Madison Square Garden filled first with astonished cheers, then with boos and whistles, heaping venom on the most slashing of liberals, who was in the house. This was the mood the delegates were in, and the moderates carried the day for them.
It made sense to the Delaware Republicans, who are dealing with their own philosophical divide at home. At their state convention in May, they beat back a takeover by doctrinaire conservatives, fighting to hold onto their tradition of a “Big Tent,” roomy enough for Republicans across the ideological spectrum.
The battle was joined most heatedly over the election for national committeeman, and it was not surprising that the winner was John R. Matlusky, the state vice chairman who is also the policy director for the Republicans’ majority caucus in the state House of Representatives.
That caucus is a melting pot of Republicanism, from the conservatives in Sussex County to the moderates who represent the affluent suburbs of New Castle County. Matlusky deals with them all and their splits over matters like the smoking ban, taxes and gay rights.
“They have a common core of beliefs. They’ll occasionally differ, but we’re all part of the core philosophy. I work in that environment,” Matlusky said.
The Delaware contingent in New York included some of those House members, moderates who were grateful for the opening tone of the convention.
“McCain and Guliani definitely have a home in my district. I looked around to the other alternates and said, what do you think of a McCain-Guliani ticket in four years?” said state Rep. Stephanie A. Ulbrich, a convention alternate who has a Newark district.
Not that the moderates were taken in by what was going on. “I’ve been looking for a pro-choice event to go to,” said state Rep. Deborah H. Hudson, an alternate whose district sprawls from Greenville to Hockessin. “I haven’t found one.”