The Note: The Politics of Gustav

ST. PAUL, Minn. --

To think we worried that this convention week would be dull.

To the pile of history-making events in this remarkable political year, we add another: There will be no Republican National Convention, essentially, on Monday. There might not be one on Tuesday, either -- not really, not as we've come to recognize one.

There is a very big storm barreling up the Gulf of Mexico, promising to wash away American soil and threatening American lives at the other end of the Mississippi. With it go years' worth of meticulous logistical planning -- and months' worth of intricate messaging.

Yet, for all the worry in St. Paul (about Hurricane Gustav, not to mention that other gathering storm that's jeopardizing the GOP this fall) could it be that Republicans aren't all that bummed to be all dressed up with nowhere to go?

"Rather than run away from the hurricane and its political risks, Mr. McCain ran toward it. He hustled on Sunday to Mississippi to make an appearance there, an unmistakable contrast to Mr. Bush," Peter Baker writes in The New York Times. "Mr. McCain's decision to get out front and center played into his 'Country First' campaign slogan, allowing him to reinforce his message that he is not a typical partisan and to draw a sharp contrast with the Bush administration's response of three years ago."

No President Bush, no Vice President Dick Cheney, and no Charlie or Katie or Brian, either.

(Yet First Lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain are both in St. Paul on Monday. A surprise speaking appearance or two, perhaps?)

It's the day the rhetoric died. But through the clouds -- it's less comic than cosmic: An opening in the party's darkness.

"The extraordinary decision to alter what had been a meticulously planned coronation reflected the powerful and lingering political impact of Katrina," Michael Abramowitz and Robert Barnes write in The Washington Post. "Some Republicans here were clearly hopeful that by quickly shifting the theme of the convention to aiding relief efforts, they could buttress their efforts to show that a McCain administration would represent a departure from Bush. 'It's beginning to creep around the edges that this could be a plus,' said one GOP operative who listened in on a campaign conference call Sunday."

"It's redemption for the Republican Party on the competence issue," a convention planner tells Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei. "This is McCain doing the right thing, showing leadership and taking command. . . . He's deciding how to handle this, and Bush is irrelevant."

Said McCain: "We must redirect our efforts from the really celebratory event of the nomination of president and vice president of our party to acting as all Americans."

It was Katrina, not Gustav, that "upended this convention city Sunday," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. "What neither McCain nor the party can tolerate now is anything that smacks of insensitivity or incompetence in the face of another potential natural disaster," he writes. "No one has a script for what the Republicans are dealing with now."

"Gustav is now the third name on John McCain's ticket," Slate's John Dickerson writes. "Depending on how McCain responds, he may actually benefit from its presence -- and those in the hurricane's path could also benefit from the politicization of the response."

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