TV spectacle turns delegates into props

Click to follow
Some 30,000 people gather today in San Diego for the start of the Republican Party convention, a four-day, made-for-television event designed to portray Bob Dole as a winning presidential candidate.

Half are representatives of the media. The delegates themselves, as the New York Times wrote last week, "seem like afterthoughts, or perhaps props". Or perhaps extras, whose main function it will be to clap, cheer and create an image of frenzied solidarity around the show's unlikely star, the 73- year-old former senator from Kansas.

Orchestrating the spectacle, like a Hollywood director, is a political consultant by the name of Paul Manafort. Monitoring proceedings by video from a skybox, he will be in constant telephone communication with officials on the podium, firing down instructions to ensure Mr Dole and other leaders put their best TV faces forward.

The job of the media commentators will be to probe the glamorous facade and expose cracks in party unity. To forestall their efforts, the convention's political organisers have been working hard behind the scenes in the last week to bury the biggest bone of Republican contention: abortion.

Half the delegates present belong to the militant Christian wing of the party. Led by Pat Buchanan, the fiery but failed presidential nominee, and Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, they have made it clear they will brook no dissent. Any suggestion that the party is not squarely in the pro-life camp, they have indicated, would spur a full televised rebellion, no matter the consequences to the campaign.

Thus, Mr Dole, who is no zealot on the abortion question, was persuaded last week to water down language suggesting tolerance for the pro-choice camp, to which most Republican voters happen to belong.