Republicans convened in New York in 2004 to renominate George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Some convention participants shared their recollections with National Journal. Edited excerpts follow.
Vice President Cheney’s speech was really remarkable and talked about our responsibilities in the world and how Americans had always shouldered those responsibilities and how presidents of both parties had pursued our national-security interests even when it wasn’t popular—and then made the case that that’s what President Bush was doing. Obviously, we were still fighting the war on terror, but we had the war in Iraq, which wasn’t perceived to be going real well at that time. And Cheney just made a very persuasive, forceful speech about it. He’s always cool and calm, and he had prepared well. So when I saw him with some of his family and friends a couple hours before the speech, he was just chatting with people and enjoying himself. I think he was looking forward to it, but he was all done with his preparation. The president’s speech was great, too, but sometimes a third party can speak for you more persuasively than you can speak for yourself.
It’s always different when you’re an incumbent and you have the ability because you control the party and the apparatus to script the convention down to every word and every minute. It’s actually more fun when you don’t have an incumbent and someone’s getting nominated for the first time. It’s a thrill for them, their family, and all their staff and friends. You kind of know the incumbent’s going to be nominated. You’re trying to make a presentation to the public, but it’s not as exciting.
Robert Smith II
In Official Proceedings, we coordinate all the participants who will be on stage. It involves a lot of logistics, calling up people and saying, “You’ve been selected to be on stage. When are you arriving, and where are you staying? We’ll send a car to get you and send you back, and this is when you speak and when you rehearse.” You work hard. People think you’ll get tickets to a bunch of stuff—can you hook up your friends and clients? You get the credential and you work backstage and it’s neat, and you get good interaction with participants, but as far as friends and family—no.
My favorite story from 2004 involves [retired Army] General Tommy Franks, who was one of my speakers. I have a lot of respect for him: He was born in Oklahoma, and I’m an Oklahoman. I don’t get starstruck very often, but I think he’s a really impressive person. He was not a fan of [New York City] Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg’s smoking ban, and he used some colorful language in saying he was not going to adhere to it. We were in Madison Square Garden, of course, and you can’t smoke indoors anywhere in New York City. But General Franks was not going to be denied a cigarette or two. Some of the people I worked with came back and said, “Who was smoking?” I said, “General Franks. You want to tell him that he can’t?”
Head of Arrangements Committee
Doing the acceptance speech in the round was an absolute smash. We had been thinking about some different way to do the final night, and we had Yankee Stadium on our minds. I went to lunch with Lyn Nofziger, and I told him we were thinking of Yankee Stadium. He said, “Are you out of your #&*% mind?” I said, “Why?” He said, “If you don’t fill it, everybody will say it is that damn Norcross’s idea.”
So I didn’t push that idea anymore. And instead, we tried to think of what we could do in Madison Square Garden. There was some talk of a revolving stage, but President Bush didn’t think that was the best idea he’d ever heard. Everyone liked the idea of doing something in the center of the hall, though, and so that’s what we did. We had to reconfigure the hall to do it, but that was a lot simpler than moving to Yankee Stadium.
It worked very well: The president was really on that night. I was at the podium behind him when he was rehearsing. He turned around and said I looked worried. I said, “It’s a big night.” He said, “If I can’t give this speech, I don’t deserve to be president.” He knocked it out of the park.
Delegate and caucus director
They brought a few of us on when the president and Mrs. Bush were doing their walk-through. From Day Three to Day Four, we changed the stage. We brought the stage out into the crowd, and there was a circle he spoke from. So as they were showing him that—letting him get a feel for it and test it all out—we were all there with him. We got to interact with him and talk to him a little bit about what we did. They’re just such gracious people. Just being able to share that with him and his wife was just such an amazing, personal experience for me.
My job was handling a lot of the delegate people on the floor. A delegate from Arizona had called me to complain that someone was sitting in their seats. I thought maybe one of the neighboring states had started taking over some of the Arizona seats. So I was dispatched to take care of whoever was squatting on their seating. When I got there, the delegate was very angry. He looked at me and said, “You have to get that man to move.” He pointed, and I looked over at Peter Jennings. I said, “Sir, he’s a news anchor on ABC. He’s not planning on staying there all night.” But the man was incredibly insistent. So I went and talked to the producer. It went back and forth for a few minutes. I finally convinced the man that it was a great honor, because Peter Jennings was going to have his state’s station when he did his opening remarks for the day. He finally realized that this was a good thing and he wasn’t going to lose his seat.
New York is such a great city. I lived there for about four months. They got us an apartment in the shadow of the Empire State building and two blocks from Madison Square Garden. Ed Koch was kind of the ambassador, and there were these two posters, one with this huge elephant looking over him, which was kind of funny. The other one was even better; it’s Ed Koch, and he’s kind of got his hands out like he’s talking to the people from the poster, and it says, “The Republicans are coming. Make nice.”
Deputy director of transportation
I helped organize the transportation plan in 2004. We had a major briefing with each of the delegations when they came in. The night before the briefings, there was a Madonna concert at Madison Square Garden. One of the small perks of an otherwise thankless job was that we would often get invited to events at Madison Square Garden. I’m not a Madonna fan, but this was a dilemma: Do I go sit in a box and listen to Madonna, or do I finish this PowerPoint presentation on the transportation system that I have to give to every delegation tomorrow?
We went to the concert. It was a fantastic show. We pulled an all-nighter to finish the presentation.
We had a mass-transportation system with five loading zones around Madison Square Garden, and we had it all color-coded. We had a little map that people could put on their lanyard, so people could look at their map and see that Garden, all color-coded. People could look at their map and see that their delegation was part of the yellow zone, and so they should head out on Seventh Avenue and go left to get to the yellow landing zone where a bus would fill and move out, with another moving in right behind it. It was a tremendous production line, and people got so used to it that by the final night, the place was emptied out within 45 minutes. It was amazing to be standing outside of Madison Square Garden not even an hour after the president had accepted the nomination and see quiet streets.
This article appears in the August 30, 2012 edition of NJ Convention Daily.