Gustav, conventions and public relations

Well, this should be interesting. Tropical Storm Gustav is heading toward the Gulf Coast — expected to reach land as a hurricane at about the same time GOP delegates are slamming into Minneapolis-St. Paul. With any luck the Republicans will do the most damage. But that is if the convention is held at all.

Republican officials, according to stories in The Washington Post, USA Today and other outlets, are considering delaying the convention. Given the debacle that helped define the Bush administration three years ago post-Katrina, I’m sure John McCain and others don’t want to be seen yucking it up in Minneapolis if people are treading water along the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans.

I hope this doesn’t happen. I can’t imagine New Orleans rebounding from another big hit from a hurricane. But the situation does provide some lessons in public relations and crisis management. It also now provides a nightmare for event planners.

Here’s from The Washington Post article, “GOP Considers Delaying Convention“:

For Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Gustav threatens to provide an untimely reminder of Hurricane Katrina. A new major storm along the Gulf Coast would renew memories of one of the low points of the Bush administration, while pulling public attention away from McCain’s formal coronation as the GOP presidential nominee.

Senior Republicans said images of political celebration in the Twin Cities while thousands of Americans flee a hurricane could be dubious. “Senator McCain has always been sensitive to national crisis,” said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, noting that the senator postponed announcing his presidential candidacy in 2000 because of the war in the Balkans. “We are monitoring the situation very closely.”

Then as usual we get to the public relations challenge.

Staging a convention during a major natural disaster would be a public relations challenge for either political party. But GOP officials say the burden could be especially heavy for their party, whose reputation was tarred by the Bush administration’s bungling of Katrina and its aftermath in 2005.

And what should the “Bungler-in-Chief” be doing about all this?

“He’s involved, engaged, and getting briefings and working to make sure that the federal assistance is there, but that obviously state and local authorities have responsibilities,” press secretary Dana Perino says [in an article in USA Today]. “And by all accounts and purposes, they are following through on those.”

Bush is scheduled to speak at the convention Monday night.

“We’ll just continue to watch it, do what we need to do to make sure that all the plans are in place to make sure evacuations are implemented, that we provide for the other types of materials that they need, or — in terms of wood, or if they need ice — wood for boarding up windows,” Perino says.

OMG. I bet Dana Perino can’t wait for her tour of duty to be over.

OK. Let’s hope Gustav fizzles in the Gulf. And let’s give John McCain and his advisors some credit for signaling early that the GOP convention would have to take a back seat to developments in New Orleans and elsewhere. Delaying the convention would be a logistical and financial crisis — but if there is a real crisis in this country caused by a hurricane or anything else, putting the brakes on the convention would be the right thing to do. Sometimes that defines public relations better than anything else.

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