Tag Archives: Republican Convention

Sunday Shorts: How A President’s Polyps Led to Scandal and Who Won’t Rock

Here are Sunday’s Shorts:

On this day in 1985, a 74-year old Ronald Reagan underwent surgery to remove a benign polyp from his intestine. While under the knife doctors discovered a cancerous polyp which necessitated a second surgery to remove a portion of his intestine. The event would be of little historical interest (Reagan made a full recovery) were it not for the fact that this also marks the period during which Reagan first approved what became the Iran-contra affair – the ill-fated effort to trade American arms to Iran in return for their help in securing the release of Americans held hostage by Mideast terrorist groups. In his July 17th diary entry, Reagan writes, “Some strange soundings are coming from some Iranians. Bud M. [Robert McFarlane, Reagan’s National Security adviser who initiated the plan to trade arms for hostages] will be here to talk about it. It could be a breakthrough on getting our seven kidnaps victims back. Evidently the Iranian economy is disintegrating fast under the strain of war” [excerpt reprinted in Lou Cannon’s Role of a Lifetime]. McFarlane met with Reagan in the hospital the next day, with only Chief of Staff Don Regan present, and informed the President that it might be possible to open up a communication channel, using Israeli officials as intermediaries, with members of the Iranian government. McFarlane’s goal in initiating contact was largely strategic; he sought to better position the U.S. to address the power vacuum likely to occur in the aftermath of the death of the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. However, it is clear that Reagan’s primary motive in agreeing to McFarlane’s plan was to secure the release of the hostages, which included the Mideast CIA station chief William Buckley.  Reagan had just come off a meeting with one of the hostage’s families and was visibly moved by their appeals to him to do something. However, there is no evidence that either McFarlane or Regan made it clear to Reagan that by subsequently approving the sale of arms to Iran in order to secure the hostages’ release, Reagan was in effect negotiating with kidnappers, thus violating administration policy. Indeed, there is some question whether Reagan, who was recovering from major surgery, was in the best frame of mind to consider such a momentous decision. When pressed later by members of the Tower Commission to recall when he actually approved sending arms to the Iranians, Reagan gave conflicting accounts and it became clear that he simply didn’t remember when, or even if, he gave the initial approval. It is a reminder that although we quite rightly hold presidents solely accountable for the decisions they make, those decision are based in part on the information, expertise and advice of their advisers. In this case Reagan’s advisers failed the President, with significant consequences.

Here’s Reagan’s national address almost two years later, on March 4, 1987, in the aftermath of the report of the Tower Commission which he appointed to investigate the Iran-contra affair, in which Reagan finally admits he traded arms for hostages:


Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the announcement that the Republicans will hold their 2016 nominating convention in Cleveland, Harry Enten presents the following data regarding the impact of convention siting on election results.  If conventions boost a candidate’s performance in that state, one would “expect to see a party’s candidate improve relative to his national performance as compared with the same party’s candidate four years ago. For example, the GOP convention in 2012 was held in Tampa, so Mitt Romney should have done better in Florida than John McCain did in 2008, once we control for the fact that he did better nationwide.” But that’s not what Enten finds. Consistent with my post on the matter, Harry concludes: “There is no proof that a convention site has much effect on a state’s voting patterns.”

Hope  you had a great Sunday!

Convention Bumps, Race-Baiting and those “Old, Lefty Professors” (Who, Moi?)

It’s been a busy day so far – and the night promises be even busier.  In addition to my post on Artur Davis, one of tonight’s convention speakers, I’ve got another piece just up at the Economist in which I argue that neither Obama nor Romney is likely to get a major polling bump coming out of their respective conventions, but that Romney’s is likely to be bigger than Obama’s by a couple of percentage points.  In a tight race, of course, a 2% net gain may be enough to push Mitt into the lead.  There are signs – so far ignored by most of the media as far as I can tell – that the race is beginning to tighten just a bit.   When I come up for air, I’ll try to post some of the latest poling data to show you what I mean.

Tonight, however, I’m going to be live blogging the Republican Convention.  In case you missed it, Republican delegates formally nominated Mitt as their candidate today. While the media tends to dismiss the convention as a scripted, made-for-television event, that misses its real significance.  As Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan argues in this piece conventions in fact serve as an important learning tool and informational source for voters who are just beginning to tune into the presidential race.  So we ought not to dismiss the event as mere pageantry.  Instead, view this as the opening volley in the general campaign.

There’s another reason to watch tonight, of course – it’s to see the speeches.  Several major figures, including House Speaker John Boehner, are on tap.  Of course, all eyes will be focused on my former student (Ok, my eyes will be!) Artur Davis, who continues to attract controversy for his decision to split from the Democratic Party.  In response to the broadside leveled at him by the Congressional Black caucus earlier today, Davis returned the favor, accusing them of “race baiting.” His comments come as both sides are trying to inject race into the campaign.  Conservatives have been circulating this NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showing not a single African-American respondent supporting Mitt.  Obama supporters have fired back, pointing out that Romney’s recent comments at a Michigan campaign rally regarding his birth certificate is one of those “dog whistles” designed to stir up racial “resentment.”  Davis’ comments are sure to add fuel to the fire.

By the way, if you haven’t seen Olivier Knox’s Yahoo piece on my Davis post, you should take a look, focusing in particular on the readers’ comments.  As with most comments, they are decidedly partisan, and not for the faint of heart (or for those who value grammar, spelling or punctuation).  Thus:

“All of the southern dixie crats switched to the repug party after 1965 check it out. Now the repugs have all of the racest members from the south on their side.”

“Well at least Arthur we know what his academic record was at Harvard…..still waiting for Obama to release his school transcripts…you think the liberal news media could do a story about that!!”

And my favorite:  “That’s the Ticket . Attacking black conservatives in support of the candidate the liberal media sold us – Barack Obama . Great work yahoo once again. Digging up an old leftist college professor to call Davis a weasel. Very balanced .”

Imagine that!  I’m both “old” and a “leftist college professor”!  Who knew?

I’ll be live blogging beginning at 8 – unless Artur comes on earlier.   Hope you can join me – it’s been a while since we’ve done one, and the scotch bottle is full.

UPDATE:  According to the C-SPAN scroll, Davis is speaking at 9:46 – he’s the lead-in to Ann Romney’s speech.  Primetime!