PHILADELPHIA - Largely by design, but also with a little luck thrown in, George W. Bush and his party come away from the 37th Republican National Convention impressively unified and focused on the task of regaining the White House.
What the nominee called an "iron fist" control of the convention, which exorcised conflict and controversy from the platform before the opening gavel fell, assured one of the most placid and collegial Republican quadrennial gatherings ever.
"This year, the delegates came into Philadelphia more united than they have been in years," said David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union. "That's why you don't see many conservatives grousing - because they're all celebrating."
Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of Maryland's Eastern Shore said: "All of us that participated in the last several conventions have all grown and matured and become more sophisticated. There's an increasing tolerance for different opinions and different lifestyles."
As the delegates head home today, the unity they achieved here can help energize Republican grass-roots involvement across the country - a valuable source of strength for the nominee between now and Election Day.
More than all the careful planning by Bush strategists, the burning desire not just to win back the Oval Office but to drive President Clinton from it, and Vice President Al Gore with him, was a powerful persuader to all elements of the Republican Party to cast aside their differences and pull together.
Where the luck comes in is the decision of Patrick J. Buchanan, the man who turned the 1992 convention into a showcase of division and extremism, to quit the Republican Party and seek the Reform Party nomination.
There was no significant rallying point for ultraconservatives of his ilk to wage what Buchanan in 1992 called a "cultural war" for control of the party.
Maybe it wasn't quite luck, but the decision of Bush's main challenger for this year's nomination, Sen. John McCain, to end his acrimonious battle with Bush for the nomination and to fall loyally into line for the Texan's election, also contributed to the cohesion.
"George Bush stands at the center of where Americans are, and he stands at the center of where the conservative movement is," said Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.
Tom Mead, executive director of the Coalition to Protect Americans Now, said America "could not have found a stronger candidate on defense issues" than Bush.
In politics, however, there is no more effective unifier than hatred of the opposition. One of the great achievements of this year's Republican convention managers was to keep that sentiment muted, at least in the public face the party put on television.
Bush strategists pointedly declared that there would be no "attack night" given over to bashing Clinton, Gore or other Democrats.
The exception - certainly calculated in this tightly controlled extravaganza - was the acceptance speech of the vice presidential nominee, Dick Cheney. In his address, Cheney declared that it was "time for them to go" - albeit in the modulated tone that makes him an unusual choice for the role of a political attack dog.
After two nights of Mr. Nice Guy speeches, the rousing response to Cheney's remarks from the delegates underscored the derision among Republican activists toward the Democratic incumbents, and toward Clinton especially.
Cheney's speech offered not only red meat to the conventioneers but also a preview of a strategy to link the personally tainted Clinton to Gore.
"Mr. Gore will try to separate himself from his leader's shadow," he said. "But somehow we will never see one without thinking of the other."
Cheney, as Bush has done regularly in his stump speeches, reminded voters in a veiled way of Clinton's personal transgressions and struggles with truth-telling that emerged in his impeachment and trial, by observing that Bush would "restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office."
Party solidarity of the degree shown here has usually occurred when an incumbent president was seeking re-election, though not always even then.
In 1976, Gerald R. Ford, who became president two years earlier when Watergate-tarnished Richard M. Nixon resigned, sought a full term in his own right. But conservatives rallied around Ronald Reagan and forced Ford to fight off a serious convention challenge.
The ill will that resulted led Ford strategists to blame Reagan's lack of participation in the fall campaign for the party's defeat.
Again in 1992, Buchanan, along with religious conservatives such as Pat Robertson, took advantage of prime-time television from the rostrum to spotlight divisions within the party, to the eventual detriment of the nominee, President George Bush.
Republican conventions at which there was no incumbent seeking re-election, like this one, have seldom achieved such a high degree of unity.