This is not a new Aesop's fable. And I send my very best wishes and prayers to those in the storm's path. But Gustav also has political implications and those might be quite helpful to the McCain campaign.
My initial reaction was simple: this will remind everyone of Katrina and will be bad for the Republicans. But the prospect of political extinction concentrates the mind wonderfully and the Republican brain trust is reacting well. If the candidate himself will get out of the way, this could work for them.
First, it's short-circuited the feeding frenzy building around Palin's lack of qualifications; the cable networks are now all Gustav, all the time and will be for several days.
Second, neither President Bush nor Vice-President Cheney will now go to New Orleans (oops, Freudian slip, St. Paul). This is a godsend for Senator McCain. They will not speak to the convention. They will not remind Americans of their status as McCain's friends. There will be no pictures of McCain with either of them nor any questions if McCain had chosen not to appear with either of them. In short, they've been hidden behind the curtain--exactly what McCain wants. Plus, I can't imagine even these guys can screw this up again--can they? No. They'll get it right. And they'll implicitly claim this makes up for last time.
Third, the convention itself is likely to be shorter and more somber. This, too, is helpful. There is no way that McCain could match the splendid oratory and stagecraft on display in Denver last week. He's simply not capable of it. Now, he's got a built-in excuse for not even trying.
Fourth, if Gustav continues on its course, they may even be able to truncate the convention enough so that Governor Palin does not have to give a real speech--just a few short remarks introducing Senator McCain to the nation. Then, they can hide her in places like Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming, and so forth for the rest of the campaign, keep her from reporters, and focus solely on the VP debate prep. Potentially, that could be her only real appearance of the entire campaign, and you can bet Joe Biden will treat her gingerly. I suspect the idea of Palin is much better than the reality, judging from the problems I've seen on interview clips thus far, and so McCain can perhaps now run with just the idea of a young, fresh woman candidate.
In short, they can so truncate the convention that John McCain appears, for all practical purposes, to be running for president as an independent. No Republican branding whatsoever--no pictures around famous R's, no pictures with Cheney or Bush, no RNC hoopla, no streamers, nothin. Just McCain and the idea of Palin (since the real Palin won't be accessible). That's it. And that's probably his best chance to win.
Unless he screws it up by overplaying his hand. He's already dragged his entourage and his VP down to Mississippi to be "briefed" (eat barbecue with Haley Barbour) on preparations and his aides have muttered that he may give his acceptance speech from the damage zone, if it's bad. No, Senator. Take the gift. Stay away, offer your moral support and your donor lists (like Obama), and be sympathetic. You're not yet the president; there's no reason for you to be briefed or get in the way. Take a short, quiet, empathetic trip afterward; stay out of the way now. Campaign for president without the Republican brand anywhere near you.