THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL Convention gets underway in Florida this week with Tropical Storm Isaac delaying proceedings that were supposed to get underway tonight until tomorrow.
The party convention, which finishes on Thursday with an address from presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is traditionally the place where Democrats and Republicans crown their presidential ticket and hear a series of speeches from the candidate, his running and senior party figures.
Though the convention is these days a formality it is also a place where delegates adopt a statement of party principles and goals – known as the platform – and adopt the rules for the party’s activities in the coming election.
While the presidential candidate is usually known in advance sometimes that is not the case and, as anyone who has seen the end of season six of the West Wing will know, they can be events fraught with uncertainty and chaos.
That has been the case for both Democrats and Republicans in the past but will not be this year. But will there be any classic moments like these five from conventions past?
1964: “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny”
While the 1964 Republican National Convention was noteworthy for being dominated by the so-called Goldwater conservatives – those who were loyal to the party’s eventual nominee Barry Goldwater – clashing with the moderates loyal to Nelson Rockefeller it also provided a platform for a rising star in the party, Ronald Reagan.
A former B movie star and Democrat, Reagan endorsed Goldwater and gave a speech to delegates in which he stressed his belief in the need for smaller government. His ideas would be encapsulated in a later stump speech, A Time for Choosing, which raised over a million dollars for Goldwater’s unsuccessful campaign and would launch Reagan’s political career.
1976: “We nominated the wrong guy”
How different things might have been today if Reagan had become president in 1976 and not four years later. He might well have done had he not narrowly lost the Republican nomination to the incumbent president Gerald Ford who went onto lose to Jimmy Carter in the general election later that year.
The last major party convention where the outcome and the party’s presidential candidate was in doubt was the 1976 Republican National Convention where the insurgent California governor almost pipped Ford. His popularity and an indication of the success he would enjoy four years later would be underlined by his impromptu speech to delegates after Ford’s acceptance speech:
1988: “Read my lips, no new taxes”
One of the most famous one-liners in American politics, George Herbert Walker Bush accepted the Republican Party’s nomination of him for the presidency in 1988 with a restatement of his policy to not raise or introduce any new taxes. The emphatic statement was one that many believed helped Bush Sr retain the White House for the Republican after eight years of Reagan:
But it would come back to haunt him four years later having raised taxes to deal with the country’s budget deficit and many feel it was one of the main contributory factors to his defeat to Bill Clinton in 1992.
1992: “There is a religious war going on in this country”
A senior adviser to three former presidents, Pat Buchanan sought the Republican nomination in 1992 and 1996 but failed on both occasions. His challenge to Bush sr in 1992 was aimed at bringing social issues, including his opposition to multiculturalism, abortion and gay rights to national prominence.
He later threw his support behind Bush and delivered a keynote speech at the Republican National Convention. In what became known as a the ‘culture war speech’ he described a “religious war going on in this country for the soul of America” and received applause which some claim drove moderates away from the Republican Party and gave Clinton the election:
2008: “You know they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull: Lipstick”
A little-known governor from the state of Alaska, it’s fair to say that Sarah Palin briefly energised her party when candidate John McCain selected her as his running mate. Her speech at the Republican National Convention in 2008 was watched by more than 40 million people and gave the ticket an immediate bump in the polls.
That was before a number of controversies arose about Palin’s actions while governor in Alaska and her knowledge of foreign policy which was exposed rather badly in TV interviews. In the end it all went rather badly for the McCain-Palin ticket but there’s no doubt about the ability of her speeches to whip up a crowd: