The cancellation of the first night of the Republican convention forced planners to compress the schedule a bit.  Bobby Jindal had to drop out, of course, for very good reason, as Tropical Storm Isaac continues to aim at southern Louisiana and Mississippi.  That still left a little room, though, for some intrigue, as the RNC’s schedule has a mighty suspicious hole in prime time on the final night of the convention (via Kate Hicks):

Republican convention planners appear to have a surprise planned for those tuning in Thursday night.

Buried deep in the convention schedule released Monday is a vague reference to a mystery speaker scheduled for the event’s final evening. “To Be Announced” has a prime speaking slot late in the Thursday program.

By then, speakers from Mitt Romney’s church will have taken the stage that night. The co-founder of Staples office-supply chain will have spoken about working with Mr. Romney during his time at Bain Capital. State officials from Massachusetts will have talked about the former governor. Olympians will have already thanked the presidential candidate for leading the 2002 Winter Games.

The only other speakers to follow “To Be Announced” will be Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mr. Romney himself, suggesting that the unnamed guest may appear during the 10 p.m. hour when the networks all will be broadcasting the convention.

Let the games begin!  Who might be important enough to feature in prime time just before Rubio’s nominating speech?  It won’t be former President George W. Bush, who will address the convention via video on Wednesday.  It won’t be his brother Jeb either, who’s already scheduled for Thursday evening.  The newest member of Augusta, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has a slot on Wednesday. Newt Gingrich has his slot on Thursday already set, and Rick Santorum will open the festivities later today.  Ron Paul will have a video presentation on Wednesday.

So who isn’t speaking at the convention?  Here are a few names:

  • Governor Rick Perry
  • Herman Cain
  • Fred Thompson
  • Michele Bachmann
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Sarah Palin

Of these six (and there are more, but they don’t spring to mind), only Palin and Limbaugh would warrant the prime-time treatment and mystery-guest roll-out.  Herman Cain and Rick Perry would be brilliant in this forum, but they wouldn’t get a more choice slot than Gingrich or Santorum, who actually won delegates during the primary process, and that would be true of Bachmann, too.  Fred Thompson would also be a great speaker, but again, I can’t see him getting a slot ahead of current Republican office holders and rising stars in the GOP.

If I had to guess right now, I’d say that organizers made the arrangements for Palin weeks ago, and want to get the biggest splash possible with the mystery-guest treatment.  If so, they’ve done a good job remaining disciplined on that strategy.

Update: Allahpundit flagged this story to me, which might complicate matters for a Palin surprise:

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who starred at the 2008 Republican National Convention and will skip this one, Tuesday morning offered her support to conservatives pressing for a floor fight over attempts by Mitt Romney’s allies to centralize control over the Republican Party. (Some of the parties appear to have reached a compromise in advance of Palin’s missive.)

“We have to remember that this election is not just about replacing the party in power. It’s about who and what we replace it with. Grassroots conservatives know this,” Palin said her Facebook posting. “Without the energy and wisdom of the grassroots, the GOP would not have had the historic 2010 electoral victories.”

Word yesterday was that this got resolved by all parties, so the controversy may be moot by now.  As for Rush Limbaugh, well, he does live and work in Florida …