Commenting on Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech in Tampa at his party’s nominating convention, just after the nominee had finished talking, veteran Republican strategist David Gergen probably had it just about right – Mitt Romney did what he set out to do, he re-introduced himself to the country. But, crucially, it will be up to the country at large to determine if Romney did enough to make the connection viscerally with those crucial but still-undecided voters prepared to make the switch from Obama’s hope and change. J BROOKS SPECTOR watched Romney’s speech live and offers his initial judgement.
But Gergen added a cautionary note that “there were few specifics…. He said we’re going to create 12 million new jobs, but he didn’t give specifics of how he is going to get there. With a five point economic plan?” Alex Castellanos, another Republican strategist, reminded listeners that Republicans tend to “tell people to take their medicine because it tastes bad. But if one promises to lead the flock to the Promised Land, one doesn’t say, ‘Oh and by the way, first you have to go through this desert to get there.’” A convention acceptance speech is probably not the place for a long, detailed budget plan, Castellanos added. Having said that, still other Republican strategists are already arguing that this speech by Mitt Romney only represents a starting moment for Romney in his effort to connect with those still-undecided voters (and especially women where the Romney campaign remains in a significant deficit vis-à-vis Barack Obama) to give them a reason to vote for him – as well as against Obama.
Watching it live, admittedly very early in the morning in South Africa at around 4:30 AM, with a very strong cup of coffee at the ready, Romney’s speech seemed stitched together out of several disparate elements. First there was a long, extended lead-in to draw upon the spirits of his parents, and some warm fuzzies about his own family that seemed a Technicolor homily to life in America straight from an idyllic Norman Rockwell painting, a gauzy Andy Hardy movie or banker George Bailey’s holistic, humanistic business values in the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. These paeans to the past might be seen to be a far distance from the reality of most people these days. And Romney seems clearly in love with his wife and all that she has meant to him – even if he didn’t show the same emotion when he strapped his dog to the roof of the family car for that extended family vacation through Canada all those years ago.
Then there was a section that set out some – but by no means all – of his ideas on how to rebuild the American job creation machine. Here, repeatedly, Romney spoke more to an old Republican vision that lowering taxes, rolling back regulation, freeing up oil, gas, coal and nuclear businesses from federal interference in the energy sector would – taken together – generate the momentum to create those 12 million. And without missing a beat, Romney repeated the canards that form a core element in the Republican attack. These include charges that Obama wants to cut Medicare to fund Obamacare (a cut identical to the one in the Paul Ryan – Romney’s running mate – budget proposals, and one that actually cuts reimbursements to hospitals and insurance companies in exchange for cost saving measures); and that Obama plans to cut the defence budget (truthfully part of the Congressional plan imposed on the budget). This part was the red meat portion of Romney’s speech, clearly designed to appeal to the true believers and rev them up for the battle ahead.
Then there was what passed for the Romney foreign policy, and to some observers it seemed not in keeping with Condoleezza Rice’s sophisticated foreign policy speech of the night before (even if she too managed to elide right around her own record in the Bush administration with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan). There was a whole litany of charges Barack Obama had “thrown Israel under a bus”, “wimped out” on support for Syrian rebels, shipped jobs to China, willy-nilly, bent and tucked to Putin’s Russia and tugged his forelock to odious regimes in places like Iran – and their dangerous nuclear program. What it did not do, in this writer’s initial view, was present a coherent vision for how Romney sees America’s posture and presence in the world.
Where Romney was clearly most effective was when he contrasted the hope for change when Barack Obama took office nearly four years ago with the concern and worry that is afoot now. To ask that old Ronald Reagan-style question, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” with his own question about whether the best voters have felt about Barack Obama was the day they voted for him was to play to the deeper concerns voters have about their current circumstances and what they want to see in their futures. In sum, it resonates deeply with a core American value that the country is the country of the future and the nation of infinite possibility; and it is an attack line that will be heard again, and again, and again over the next two months.
And as for the rest of the convention’s final day? Florida senator Marco Rubio introduced Mitt Romney in his first real opportunity for a national try-out for future possibilities and the consensus already is that his speech was more a poem of praise to his own family, his own success and his own life than a build-up to the Romney acceptance speech. Oops.
Then there was the eerie spectacle of Clint “Dirty Harry” Eastwood in a nearly quarter-hour stand-up routine in which he spoke to an imaginary Barack Obama represented by an empty chair. Really. Punctuated by the occasional near-obscenity and the occasional disconnected segue to somewhere indecipherable, it presented an odd counterpoint to what was supposed to be Mitt Romney’s moment. This is going to lead to an interesting question: what was the key moment on Thusday night in Tampa – Mitt’s acceptance speech or Eastwood’s odd ramble through stand-up comedy?
What to watch for now is whether this convention and the images and phrases that come out of it produce a change in the vocabulary of the campaign and generates an upward bump in Mitt Romney’s overall appeal to voters – as well as whether Romney manages to change the meter in his connection with women voters. The major telling point will also be, come November, in the feelings this convention generates in those still-undecided voters in critical battleground states.
Coming up next week is the Democrats’ own convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then within a month the first of the debates between the two presidential candidates. DM
Photo: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney arrives during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida August 30, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer