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GOP: Watch for Donkey Mistakes

The Running Arguments: A Continuing Series Surveying The Presidential Campaign And Candidates.

July 17, 1988|Stuart K. Spencer | Stuart K. Spencer was Ronald Reagan's senior campaign adviser in 1980 and 1984

IRVINE — The Democratic show starts tomorrow--at least the public version. Good Republicans seeking entertainment, enlightenment, renewed energy and even possible encouragement are invited to attend by tuning in to the convention. What to look for: the unexpected. Democratic Chairman Paul Kirk and his associates want to control and stage-manage what you see on prime-time television. This is less censorship than common sense. Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, the media--particularly the "gotcha" journalists--will be trying to look behind the curtain, in the wings and on the streets for the real story. This is partly a game and the viewer is the beneficiary of each player's efforts.

Many things might happen, could happen or will happen; how they are handled--or presented--could be important for November and may add additional targets of opportunity for George Bush and his gang of merry archers.

The continuing saga of Jesse Jackson will play out through the week. Jackson is still a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination and he--plus his supporters--are certain to remind the world of that reality.

The demeanor of the convention, the behavior of delegates, will send a message to the viewing public. If the proceedings are boring and speakers behave according to script, that may not be bad for the sometimes contentious Democrats. Substance will also count. If the carefully crafted draft platform is modified from vague harmless statements to real promises of action in areas not especially popular with middle America, then Republicans will have more ammunition to fire off in the fall at Michael S. Dukakis. Phrases such as "reduced defense expenditures," "increased spending" or "raising taxes and revenue" would be most welcome and could go a long way in tearing the assiduously cultivated, penny-pinching image off "liberal Mike."

The Democrats will come out of Atlanta more united than they were for the last two campaigns. The city helps; Atlanta is neither activist San Francisco nor raucous New York. And Dukakis won the final six weeks of primaries, unlike Walter F. Mondale and former President Jimmy Carter, each of whom lost primaries near the end and staggered across the finish line. Yet unity always has its price, and how the payment is made will be watched closely. Jackson and his supporters may "have no place else to go" politically, but they can always go fishing.

Honest brokers are going to be needed to bring about the appropriate accommodation. Keep an eye on the happiness or unhappiness of California House Speaker Willie Brown; he is also national chairman of the Jackson campaign, a pro, and should be a major player when the big deal is finally done.

Republican operatives and partisans will be tuned in to look for an edge; this will be a close, hard- fought election. Anything that can help will be important: platform planks, disappointed delegates, promises made or implied in the name of unity--all will be studied and recorded for fall playback.

The first half of the quadrennial show-and-tell is here. Republicans will learn by watching, even if only to remember to check out the guy who is going to let the balloons drop next month, when it's their turn in New Orleans.

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