Jim Lee: Isaac was blessing for divided GOP

Hurricane Isaac may have caused major headaches for the Republican Party's national convention in Tampa last week, but the timing of the storm was probably more of a blessing in the GOP's efforts to unseat President Barack Obama in November.

Throughout the abbreviated convention party leaders tried to hammer home that the focus for the election needs to be Obama's performance in office as opposed to the social issues which the Democrats are trying to use to their advantage.

Distractions like U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's bizarre theories on how women's bodies can "shut down" to avoid pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape" and party leaders manipulating convention rules to deny Texas Rep. Ron Paul his delegates underscore the deep divisions within the GOP, and they have provided additional fodder for Democrats to focus on as they try to deflect attention from the continuing bad economy and high unemployment numbers.

In that sense, having an abbreviated convention forced organizers to jam more into a tighter timeframe, and both the participants and speakers did a good job of creating enthusiasm while at the same time offering somber thoughts to the people of Louisiana and other areas that were bracing for the impact of the hurricane which came almost exactly on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

While Isaac had nowhere near the impact of Katrina, the fact that it arrived at that time served as a reminder to many people of the terrible job that the federal government, under the direction of Republican President George W. Bush, did in reacting to that disaster. Ultimately most people dismissed comparisons to the two, with the media probably making a bigger deal of the whole issue than anyone else. If anything, the storm and rains that it brought to the Tampa area hurt protesters more than the delegates and attendees of the convention. Already shuffled well away from the convention in the name of security, the protests and protest organizers didn't generate the kind of headlines that they probably hoped they would. Had the GOP not been forced to compress the schedule, and had the weather cooperated, the media would likely have given over more time to the protesters, making it that much harder for the GOP leaders to keep the focus on the economy.

Even with that, focusing on the economy will continue to be a challenge for the party. Romney's plan to raise taxes on the middle class while giving breaks to millionaires and billionaires doesn't sit well with many of the party faithful. And the shallow claims of how businesses and corporations which have seen record profits under the Bush years need additional tax breaks in order to create jobs ring hollow after a decade in which they enjoyed breaks and created no jobs.

Conventions typically provide a boost for the candidate when they occur, yet polls continue to show Obama and Romney in a tight race. With the Democratic convention in Charlotte right around the corner, it will be interesting to see whether Obama gets a bigger boost than Romney did and how, after the bump, the polls shake out. Obama has a huge hurdle to overcome with unemployment remaining high, but despite the GOP's best efforts, it doesn't seem that the public has much faith in them either. Perhaps it has something to do with the lack of cooperation in Congress and the inability of government leaders to agree to anything in recent years.

Most people recognize that problems are solved through compromise, and after so many years of obstinate GOP behavior on a variety of issues, from failed budget negotiations to brinkmanship of the debt ceiling, voters likely are reluctant to put Republicans in charge of anything. Another fear, even among many centrist and moderate Republicans, is how far the party is leaning to the right. Akin's comments on "legitimate rape" and a party platform that allows no exceptions for abortions in cases of rape or incest are extremely unpopular, as are some extreme positions that the party has taken on other social issues.

Throw in Romney's own shifting stands on issues, not the least of which is illustrated in the health-care reforms he enacted as governor of Massachusetts which Obama's health reforms were modeled after, and it isn't hard to understand why so many people are so confused about what the GOP stands for, and why it is so easy for the Democrats to paint Republicans as only looking out for the wealthy.

Combined, the storm of controversies would have been enough to throw even the most organized party officials off message and, in that environment, the arrival of Isaac probably saved the party more headaches than it created.