It is no disrespect to the millions of people in the path of Hurricane Gustav to note that Republican presidential candidate John McCain reaped some political benefit from the powerful storm. It is no disrespect to McCain either. Quite the opposite: Faced with the question of how to handle the Minnesota convention that is to officially nominate him for president, just as an evacuation was underway at the other end of the Mississippi River, he and other GOP leaders made the right call in choosing a stripped-down, business-like session rather than a four-day party.
Gustav also helped out the Republicans' soon-to-be nominee by allowing him to distance himself from President Bush several times over: It kept the unpopular president, and the even more unpopular vice president, away from the convention (although Bush spoke via satellite); it further separated McCain, in image, at least, from the ineptitude and indifference that the Bush administration showed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005; and, for those who believe that the recent bout of killer storms is a consequence of global climate change, it served as a reminder that McCain, unlike Bush, acknowledges the consensus of the scientific community.
To retain the White House, the GOP should demonstrate that it is a different party from Bush's -- the one that much of the public associates with a prolonged war started on false pretenses, a ballooning national debt and reckless deregulation. McCain once presented himself as the president's opposite, but in recent months has begun to sound more like him, embracing the religious right, amping up his hawkish rhetoric and promoting the sort of tax cuts he once attacked as irresponsible. Gustav gave him the chance to again show himself as his own man.