(Republican) Conventional Thinking
So, was it an inflection point?
The common political wisdom is that voters re-elect an incumbent without much thought if things are going OK, that folks will take a look at the alternative if the economy is awful, that the Obama campaign has made a large early effort to paint Mitt Romney as a heartless extremist, and at this point the race is a toss-up. The Tampa convention was the first great opportunity to demolish the Democrats’ greatest (only?) story line. How’d it go?
First, do no harm.
- The libertarian wing was kept within the tent. There was some huffing and puffing about rules for delegate selection, but the 190 Ron Paul delegates (out of 2286 total) behaved. Gary Johnson will carry the Libertarian Party banner in the election, but Romney will have the vast majority of their votes.
- The social conservatives had their moments with Rick Santorum’s and Mike Huckabee’s speeches and the platform carried the traditional broad injunction against abortion, but few outside of the Left will see this as significant.
- The protestors were kept at bay and Joe Biden thought better of his initial plan to cause mischief by campaigning in Tampa. No Chicago 1968.
The big stuff.
- Romey’s speech can best be summarized in his phrase that Obama promised to make the oceans recede and to heal the planet; Romney would do everything that he could for people and their families. He had the right level of detail, the right tone on the nation having hoped for Obama’s success, and a high degree of American exceptionalism. The very telling stories about his ministering to church members and his support for women as governor of Massachusetts deserve media coverage, but will probably need to be made a subject of campaign advertisements.
- Ann Romney was magnificent. Peggy Noonan’s observation that more specific vignettes, “show, don’t tell” in literary terms, has merit, but her most poignant stories are about Mitt’s reaction to her cancer and MS and she shares Mitt’s discomfort in talking about herself. Her comment that he views helping others as a privilege and not a political talking point leaves the filling in of examples to others.
- The Republicans offered a serious discussion to a serious public. Chris Christie’s claim that the public will appreciate a party that tells the truth will be tested – particularly on entitlements. With Paul Ryan’s presentation of the Romney economic agenda – including the “bring on the Medicare fight” challenge - there could not be a better salesman for the medicine that is needed. It is fortunate that the Republicans could offer a string of governors – Christie, Walker, Kasich, Haley, Martinez, Fortuno, McDonnell – to demonstrate that the application of conservative principles can balance budgets, lower taxes, and grow employment.
- Neither Romney nor Ryan has solid foreign policy credentials. It is a shame that Condi Rice – who shares the intellectual leadership of the party – will not be a fixture in a Romney administration. The party has obviously moved beyond the other foreign policy speaker, John McCain.
- All of the speakers got the memo to keep it positive. The media ignores the difference between Republicans attacking policies and results and Democrats attacking people, but the speakers were consistent on the prior. Let’s see what Charlotte holds next week.
And the nuances.
- The significance of 42 year old policy wonk, Tea Party favorite, “Young Gun” Paul Ryan is compelling. Like Bill Buckley in the 60s, he legitimizes the intellectual argument for small government. Whether the Republican Party has coopted the Tea Party or vice versa is unclear, but the party has clearly moved beyond the “big government conservatism” of the Bush era – a message emphasized by his absence.
- Beyond Ryan, one has to be impressed by the number of 35 to 50 year old rising stars, the number of legitimate women and minority speakers, and the number of swing states with Republican governors. The Democratic convention will provide an interesting contrast. Perhaps it is inherent that the incumbent president will suck up all of the money and publicity, but the second tier of Biden, Pelosi, and Reid should give Democrats pause.
Now begins the 10 week sprint to the finish line. Obama is stuck with the economy and sees his best chance as continued vilification of Romney and Ryan. With a few hundred million dollars and three presidential debates, Romney should be able to demonstrate that he is not only experienced and competent, but also a reasonably nice guy. He has a lot of material to work with, and Tampa was a big step in that direction. Confidence grows.
This week’s video is Obama-endorser turned Republican Artur Davis’ speech – one of the best of the convention – aimed at the millions of 2008 Obama voters with buyers remorse.