The 40th Republican National Convention is now history, and political strategists and pundits are poring over the poll numbers to see whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are getting a post-convention bounce in what have been very closely divided polls.
Romney’s convention managers made some correct and some interesting decisions. First, don’t relitigate 2008, as some conservatives would love to do.
Romney and Ryan both acknowledged the hopes for change motivating so many erstwhile Barack Obama voters. They looked back on his record in office more in sorrow than in anger.
Former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis eloquently described his own disenchantment with the president. You can see why they didn’t want to air a minute of his talk on MSNBC. It would have undercut the cable channel’s relentless narrative that Republicans are racists.
There was a special callout to young voters, who went 66 to 32 percent for Obama last time, when Ryan talked of twenty-somethings in their childhood bedrooms, “staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life. ”
And there was a reach-out to the unquantifiable but undoubtedly large number of voters who feel that it would be a bad thing for Americans to be seen rejecting the first black president.
That’s the one reason I can think of for why the Romney people made the otherwise puzzling decision to put on Clint Eastwood at 10:00 Eastern, when the broadcast networks began their hour of coverage. It’s summed up in one sentence: “And when somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.”
This was not as tightly scripted a convention as the George W. Bush or Bill Clinton conventions. Eastwood spoke without a teleprompter and so, very effectively, did Condoleezza Rice.
In back-to-back speeches, Ann Romney talked about “love” and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said that respect was more important than love. That seemed dissonant.
Actually, the two themes are reconcilable. A leader acts out of love for the people but, as Machiavelli taught, prefers to be feared than loved.
But slicker convention management would have rewritten one of the texts. The Romney folks left interpretation to a mostly hostile press and, they hope, a more sympathetic public.
I suspect the point was not to seem slick. Romney has a cool demeanor, and the convention was a device to humanize him.
He and his wife described their personal lives in ways that resemble those of almost everyone. The kids roughhousing, the misfortunes that come sooner or later: They may have more money, but their lives are like those of lots of people.
The testimony of fellow church members about the Romneys’ service and caring was genuinely moving, recounted by people who are the opposite of slick. The convention floor was almost silent as they spoke, and we’ll see them again in TV ads.
The point is that the Romneys contributed something that is in short supply even among the very rich: time.
The convention also addressed concerns that have undoubtedly surfaced in focus groups. Yes, the candidate is open to women taking a lead role, as they have on his staff.
Yes, the candidate did help create businesses that employ tens of thousands and provide goods and services that people found they needed. Yes, Republicans care about education, and education choice, so that disadvantaged children have a chance to move upward.
Romney made that point in his speech, and it was underlined earlier in the evening by Jeb Bush, an extraordinarily successful governor and a politician whose behind-the-scenes support at crucial moments made possible the national career of the man who introduced Romney, Sen. Marco Rubio.
Coming off the convention floor, I heard raves about Romney’s speech from rank-and-file delegates and limited praise from those more experienced. Not spectacular, they said, but good enough.
That’s actually high praise. Democrats like their presidential candidates to be philosopher kings. They must be not only competent, but intellectually dazzling and oratorically thrilling.
Republicans have more modest ambitions. They see politicians as tools — and are satisfied if they are good enough to do the job.
Mitt Romney in selecting Paul Ryan, in staging an inspiring rather than slick convention and in delivering his acceptance speech, convinced Republicans in the hall and around the nation, and probably many undecideds, that he is a more than sufficient tool to do the job.
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