House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told CNN yesterday that Republicans thinking about skipping the party’s national convention in July should think again. “I think that we should go,” Ryan said. “This is our convention making our nominee, so I think everybody should participate.”
The Speaker added, “It could be a great historical exercise. I mean, it could be something you’ll remember the rest of your life.” Note, memorable things are not always positive.
Around the same time, however, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told The Hill that vulnerable GOP incumbents might want to skip this year’s gathering, looking instead for “more unifying events” where there’s less likelihood of a “brouhaha.”
John McCain has apparently decided to listen to Wicker and ignore Ryan. Politico reported late yesterday:
The 2008 Republican presidential nominee will not attend the party’s national convention in July. Arizona Sen. John McCain told reporters Tuesday that he may forgo attending what’s expected to be a contested convention this summer in order to campaign for his Senate seat.“I have to campaign for reelection, and I have always done that when I’m up,” McCain said.
Point of fact: McCain’s claim isn’t true. The last time the Arizona Republican was up for re-election during a presidential election year, he not only attended the party’s national convention, he delivered a high-profile speech celebrating George W. Bush. For the senator to say he’s “always” skipped the convention when he’s up is wrong.
But even putting that aside, there are a couple of angles to this. The first is the prospect of a toxic Republican convention, which leading party officials want no part of, and which they will take care to avoid. We don’t yet know how the Republican presidential nominating process will play out, but there’s a real chance of a contested convention – at which things may get ugly.
One Republican senator has already said he’s prepared to skip the GOP gathering, fearing for his personal safety, and some additional Republican members of Congress have said they’ll stay home, not wanting to be associated with a convention that elevates Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
It’s possible some of these folks may change their minds, but at least for now, it’s emblematic of a more systemic problem within the party: Republican politics is so fractured in 2016 that many party officials, including the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, have concluded it’s in their interests to stay far away.
The second angle to remember is that McCain appears increasingly concerned about his own electoral survival. Despite, or perhaps because of, his lengthy career on Capitol Hill, the senator is not nearly as popular in Arizona as he once was, and there’s some evidence that Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) is prepared to give the incumbent the toughest race he’s ever seen.
Before he can even reach a difficult general election, McCain also faces an Aug. 30 primary. Odds are, he’ll prevail, but the fact that he’s facing a challenge at all is a reminder about his vulnerability.
No wonder he’s inclined to skip a Republican convention at which his party is likely to nominate an unpopular presidential candidate.