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On the Republican National Convention

Chances are, I watched more of the Republican National Convention than you did. In fact, chances are I watched more of the convention than any sane person should. I wanted to watch it the way most Republicans would watch it, so I tuned to Fox News. But when I realized that the networks talked over and had commercials during many speeches, I muted Fox News while watching the convention on CSPAN. That way, not only would I see everything at the convention, but I could also see how it was being covered by Fox News. Suffice it to say, I’m sort of overloaded, but I want to reflect on what was or wasn’t accomplished this past week, as well as some quick-hitting thoughts at the end.


Going into the convention, there were some pretty clear-cut expectations as to what the goals of the convention should be. The most talked-about goal was to help Mitt Romney connect to the American people by getting to know him better. I wrote in advance that I thought this was a mistake. I think when people said we need to know him better, what they really meant was that we need to know a different Mitt Romney, but I think we already knew Romney. As he himself stated, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” Getting a closer look at Romney might not lead to greater connectivity, but simply reaffirm that his experience is not typical. This connecting with Mitt effort revved up on the final night of the convention, with people from Romney’s past–people who are not professional speakers–brought onto stage to help paint a fuller picture of Mitt Romney, culminating with the man himself.

I must admit, this did not go as poorly as I expected. The parade of people from the past, however, was terribly flat and boring. It is good to have eye witness accounts to the fact that Romney seems to be a good person and has been successful. But to watch that story get told through a series of short speeches was not a made-for-tv moment. Nor did it engage or connect me, despite some of the wonderful things being said.

Romney’s speech, however, exceeded my expectations, and probably because he didn’t seem to focus on connecting with people, but on saying what he wanted to say. After an expectedly blase beginning, he had a couple of very strong lines. I think the speech really turned when he contrasted Obama’s lofty goals and promises with Mitt’s own very simple promise to help you and your family. Romney let the convention do what it could to get to know him better. He, however, focused on the job at hand, and I think that was an excellent decision for him.

I think the most unreported aspect of this convention was the redefinition of the Romney campaign to the “optimism” campaign. It went on subtly all week, but really was driven home when he spoke. When your opponent ran a race on “hope” four years ago, cornering the market on optimism is a very tall task, but I think it’s one that was very well-executed. By the end of the week–and especially Romney’s speech–a viewer may have the subconscious impression that the current administration thinks that this is the best we can do, while Romney, Paul Ryan and the Republicans have faith that America and the American people can do better. It was a well-crafted change in tone and message, and it’s something for which I believe the Romney campaign and the convention organizers deserve credit.


Another primary goal was to turn women around to Team Romney by expressing that the real women’s issues are simply economic issues, not issues having to do with reproduction and its associated functions. I think that this had mixed results. The pandering to women was a little too over-the-top; a little too blunt. You know when someone gives you a sales pitch, and they’re so enthusiastic that a little alarm goes off in your head saying “wait, I’m being sold, here,” and you begin to trust what they’re saying a little bit less? That happened all week on the issue of women.

It started off with Ann Romney. Her speech was pretty good. It accomplished the goal of getting people to believe a little bit more in Mitt Romney (“he. will. not. fail.”), but then again if your wife doesn’t love you, who will? The earlier segment of the speech, though, seemed awkward. In discussing that women bear a bit of a greater burden when times are tough, Ann Romney went on to name every familial role a woman can occupy, took an awkward pause, and then yelled “I love you, women!” Here’s the transcript of that segment: “We’re the mothers. We’re the wives. We’re the grandmothers. We’re the big sisters. We’re the little sisters, and we are the daughters. You know it’s true, don’t you?  I love you, women!”

Yes, Ann Romney, it is true that if you are a woman, you are at least one of those things. I’m not sure, however, that any of the women who do care about reproduction would be convinced by anything she said here. And isn’t closing a gender gap all about changing minds?

The outreach to women continued all week, and again got hit a little too bluntly in a speech by a Romney, with Mitt Romney devoting a segment of his speech devoted to the issue, discussing the women who worked in his cabinet, the women who start small businesses, the women he mentored, etc. Overall, I doubt that this convention did much to close the gender gap.


Quick Hits:

-I liked Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett’s remarks on the opening day. He seemed like a reasonable person who went out of his way to note that the policies he put in place did not come at the cost of environmental or socially beneficial factors.

-I found it really interesting during the parade of House and Senate candidates that were given air time to see what people chose to focus on with their very limited speaking time. One guy gave a speech almost entirely about coal. It’s good that he did, though, because too many of the others sounded like mimeographs of each other.

-The decision to move the roll call into Tuesday pre-prime time in order to avoid having too much of a national audience watch Minnesota and Nevada indignantly nominate Ron Paul, while also only calling out vote totals for Romney and no other candidates was probably smart. But it does add to my distaste of parties and increase their “creepy factor,” trying to silence division and dissidence within their walls. Ron Paul supporters, take note: Republicans want your votes but not your voices.

-If you are a black Republican, a Hispanic Republican, or even speak a little Spanish and are Republican, the Republicans wanted to hear from you this week. Except Fox News, who decided not to air Ted Cruz’s speech in favor of commercials and an interview with Scott Walker.

-On that note, Artur Davis is an excellent speaker. No wonder he’s been chosen to speak at conventions two straight election cycles, albeit for opposing sides. Davis had a line in which he said, “let’s put the poetry aside,” which was ironic only because his speech had such a great rhythm and rhetoric to it, as well. It was more rhetoric than substance, but honestly, conventions aren’t a really good place for substance.

-I liked Governor Chris Christie’s speech a lot. The “us” and “them” part wasn’t my favorite, but he depersonalized it, never mentioning President Obama by name (only once by “Mr. President”), and he lectured both sides of the aisle on actually getting things done. It reminded me a little of my own post on representative democracy.

-I know I’m not a Republican because I hated Paul Ryan’s speech, wasn’t a fan of Condoleezza Rice’s speech, but loved Christie’s. These opinions seem to run counter to the Republican convention reactions.

-Speaking of Rice, America’s reputation abroad neared an all-time low during the administration for which she was Secretary of State. I’m not saying that it was her fault, but it made her lecturing about being strong and posturing seem less impactful to me.

-Speaking of Republican reactions (two bullets up), I have a lot of politically active Republican friends on facebook, but didn’t see much from any of them this week. All polling says Republican enthusiasm is up, but I just found that contradictory anecdotal evidence to be strange.

-Jeb Bush said some things I didn’t like and agree with, but I also think that it is an important first step to hear Republicans admit that the current system (particularly in education) is not providing equal opportunity. This may be cause for further exploration and reflection after convention season is done.

-Marco Rubio was awfully religious in his introduction of Mitt Romney. That seemed like a strange choice. That said, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and possibly Condoleezza Rice are gearing up for an epic primary in 2016 or 2020.

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