Pros dismayed by GOP's image of disarray


HOUSTON -- Even before the Republican convention opened here, there was great pressure on President Bush to lift his campaign, and the party, with a dynamite acceptance speech tonight.

That pressure has mounted among seasoned convention operatives as they see this gathering being plagued by episodes that these precisionists of the past are not accustomed to.

First there was the bad timing that put former President Ronald Reagan before the cameras so late Monday night that a good chunk of the television audience probably didn't see or hear him.

Then there was the fiasco Tuesday night when Mr. Bush's statement in an earlier television interview that he would shake up his Cabinet in a second term took the play away from the keynote address of Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas.

The message conveyed was one of administration panic as the networks, led by CNN, interviewed somewhat bewildered Cabinet members about their futures and those of others.

Although Mr. Bush was talking about the traditional changes made by most re-elected presidents in a second term, he sounded as if he were about to emulate former President Jimmy Carter's mass execution of Cabinet members in 1979.

It was not until yesterday that the whole business was put in perspective.

At a Democratic convention, all this would be par for the course. Democrats have been notoriously undisciplined at their quadrennial meetings.

But Republicans have been famous for making everything come out exactly on time and according to script.

Old-timers here like Ron Walker, a master of precision campaign and convention logistics for former President Richard M. Nixon, was shaking his head in disbelief yesterday at the party that, in the past, had always made the trains run on time -- but that this week looks more like the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

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