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GOP Convention Looks to the Future

The final slate of speakers at the Republican National Convention is shaping up, and it’s no surprise that Chris Christie and Marco Rubio both scored high-profile slots:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will deliver the keynote address at the Republican National Convention later this month, USA Today reported. Meanwhile, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will introduce Mitt Romney, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Christie confirmed earlier reports that he would give the 20-minute address, saying he will make an “empathetic” argument for the GOP and voting for Mitt Romney. The Republican governor is on his fourth draft of the speech and “grinding away on it,” he told USA Today.

The choices of Christie and Rubio for prominent roles indicate that the RNC’s convention theme is forward-looking, and reformist rather than rejectionist (a distinction that Michael Gerson articulated in the Washington Post a few months ago).

But the list of speakers is also interesting because of who has been excluded. There are libertarian-leaning conservatives, but Ron Paul has been skipped over in favor of his less doctrinal son, Rand. Sarah Palin wasn’t offered a slot, a result of her waning influence in the party and the rise of other conservative favorites who can satisfy the Tea Party base without alienating the center. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney didn’t make the cut either.

Also note that out of the top GOP primary contenders, only Rick Santorum has a speaking role:

Of Romney’s onetime rivals for the Republican nomination — a colorful cast that includes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former pizza executive Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) — only former Senator Rick Santorum has been asked to speak.

“The agenda of speakers reflect the priorities the campaign has going into the fall,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “If they were to put someone out there who was not helpful, who was off message or a loud mouth, it would do nothing but hurt their efforts.”

While all of these candidates were at the top of the primary polls at one point or another, the RNC apparently doesn’t see them as the future of the party. The convention will elevate Christie and Rubio, and if Romney loses, they’re likely to be the top contenders — along with Ryan — in 2016.