Reports: Convention could be shortened to one day, or canceled entirely

Forget the media concern-trolling about cancellation. There’s no way the RNC’s going to forfeit face time for Romney on national television by pulling the plug when the whole point of this week was to introduce voters to the softer, more human side of Mitt. Barring Isaac turning into a hypercane, there’ll be at least one night of convention proceedings with Romney as the star speaker, and it’s not hard to guess what he’ll say.

Planners are considering a range of options, depending on the vagaries of the storm. One of the worst-case scenarios would have Romney delivering a brief speech declaring the emergency bigger than politics, shuttering the convention, and turning the public’s attention to the Gulf Coast. Such a response would essentially be counter-programming to what people would expect from President Obama, one official said.

“That’s the worst-case scenario you just played out, and that might not be the worst-case scenario” politically for Romney if he’s seen as putting people ahead of politics, said the official who demanded anonymity.

If that’s not the worst-case scenario politically, what is? Obviously, Romney’s not going to give a red-meat speech pounding Obama if New Orleans is three feet underwater. A weather disaster means he’ll necessarily downshift into nonpartisan heal-the-nation statesman mode, but Obama will be in that mode too — at least until the Democratic convention opens next week — and, unlike Romney, Obama’s chances don’t depend in large part on one killer speech designed to successfully ingratiate him to the public. If Mitt loses that opportunity, it’s a problem, even though he’ll get credit for striking the right tone in focusing on the storm victims.

The pace of the storm’s progress is tricky too. Weather Underground:

The latest set of 0Z and 06Z (8 pm and 2 am EDT) model runs are fairly unified taking Isaac ashore near Southeast Louisiana late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, but continue to show major differences in what happens after that. It is still uncertain if a trough of low pressure passing to the north of Isaac will be able to turn the storm due north, as the ECMWF model is predicting, or bypass the storm, allowing a more west-northwest motion into western Louisiana, like the GFS model is predicting. In either case, Isaac is likely to slow down as it approaches the coast, which will increase the damage potential fro m its wind, storm surge, and rains…

Isaac’s storm surge will provide the first test of the newly-completed New Orleans levee system upgrade. In the wake of the disastrous storm surge flooding from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Congress appropriated $14.5 billion to upgrade the New Orleans levee system to withstand a Category 3 hurricane storm surge. Katrina was a Category 3 storm at landfall, but the storm passed far enough to the east of the city that its storm surge was characteristic of a Category 1 – 2 storm at the places where the city’s flood walls and levees failed. The new flood defenses were only partially completed in time for the arrival of Hurricane Gustav in 2008, which hit Central Louisiana as a Category 2 storm. Gustav brought a storm surge characteristic of a Category 1 hurricane to New Orleans: 9.5′ to Lake Borgne on the east side of the city. Since that time, the imposing 2-mile long IHNC Flood Barrier has been completed to block off the funnel-shaped pair of canals on the east side of the city. I expect New Orleans’ new flood defenses will be able to hold back Isaac’s surge, but areas outside the levees are at risk of heavy storm surge damage.

What makes the timing tricky is that Tuesday’s usually the day for rhetorical bombthrowing at the convention, followed by a more optimistic tone on Wednesday and Thursday as the ticket is introduced. (Via the Daily Caller, see Krauthammer below for more on that.) The GOP can’t afford much of that this time. If tomorrow’s speakers go all out in attacking O and then disaster strikes New Orleans’s levees on Wednesday after Isaac comes ashore, the media will have a field day with the contrast. In fact, I’ve seen reports already that they’re planning de facto split-screen coverage. Imagine Romney laying into Obama in one window while a disapproving Chris Matthews points to the storm map in the other, shaking his head in exquisite, ineffable sadness. So much heart-ache, my friends.

Exit question via John Boehner: Would a one-day convention really be such a bad thing? Three hours on Thursday night: Ann Romney, Christie, Ryan, Rubio, and Mitt. That’s all you really need.