Romney Entered the GOP Convention the Underdog and Left the Convention the Underdog
Watching the post-speech media coverage of the GOP convention, I came away from it convinced it was a net negative for the GOP ticket. Romney went into it the underdog and needed to gain some serious momentum. He left it fending off bad press and ridicule, with even the best speeches being analyzed not for how they’ll help Romney, but how they’ll play into the 2016 election.
Before we get into the actual analysis of the speakers, let’s first recognize that the GOP was hindered by the very first day being canceled because of fears of Isaac. It was one less day Republicans had to drive home their messaging.
As for the first day of actual speeches, Boehner’s opening couldn’t even get the crowd riled up, much less the independents at home (at least watching at home, I couldn’t hear any cheering). The media gave Ann Romney stellar grades for her speech, but I found it awful and boring (frankly, I think the media decided before she even got on the stage to say she nailed it just so they could create the appearance of being fair and balanced. Ganging up on the candidate’s wife would have made them look like bullies). She rushed through some warm-and-fuzzy biographical details on Mitt in such a way that it was obvious she was reading from a teleprompter. The worst part of her speech was when she randomly screamed out “I love you women!” It stunk of the same lazy demographic pandering that led to John McCain nominating Sarah Palin, or Republicans declaring Herman Cain a great candidate because they assumed he would split the black vote for Obama. College-educated women won’t be fooled into not noticing her speech glossed over any actual policy discussions about women’s rights — her husband’s vow to end funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides basic health care options to millions of women each year; the crazy freak show with Akin; the vaginal ultrasounds.
And as for Chris Christie’s speech? — I think Republicans overestimate how good of a speaker he is. In fact, I’m struggling to recall anything that was actually in his speech, other than he had to verbally request a standing ovation, something that Democrats took no small amount of glee pointing out.
Let’s talk demographics for just a second. Several political scientists, including the wise sage of polling Nate Silver, have pointed out the uphill battle Romney faces with minorities. If Obama gets the same margins (that’s just margins, he doesn’t even need the same turnout) from minorities as he did in 2008, he beats Romney even if Romney gets the same share of the white vote as George W Bush did in 2004 — by a pretty decisive margin too. Romney knows he can’t beat Obama with these groups, but he has to eat into these margins in order to have any hope of winning (or get over 61% of the white vote, a margin not seen since Reagan, who won by a landslide). This convention didn’t really do all that much to help him. It certainly seemed toned down on the anti-immigration rhetoric — I don’t recall any major speaker focusing on that theme. But one of the biggest stories to emerge from the convention was that attendees threw food at a black woman working for CNN, screaming, “This is how we feed the animals!” They may have been people on the radical fringes of the party, but it was extremely bad press for the GOP. It would be like DNC attendees spitting and throwing food at uniformed soldiers while screaming out “Baby killers!” I’m seeing conflicting reports on whether attendees also basically shouted down one of the Puerto Rican speakers. From the video I saw, the speaker didn’t look very happy and it coincidentally was the only time someone had to come forward and demand respect for a speaker, so obviously liberals weren’t the only ones who saw perceived racism/xenophobia in the crowd’s reaction.
Moving on. Rick Santorum’s social conservative speech? Maybe it would have struck fear in Democrats in 2004, but honestly Santorum’s best days are behind him. He was an incumbent who got kicked out by a sizable margin and his views on gay marriage are becoming more outdated by the second. The best speech of the second night, by far, came from Condi. It was the first speech of the entire convention that didn’t sound like it was being read from a teleprompter (speaking of teleprompters, for all the fun the GOP has when making fun of Obama and his teleprompter, at least Obama doesn’t sound like a robot, which is how most of GOP speakers came off). It was emotional and actually had a real thesis and cadence, something missing from most of the others. It had me wishing she had been Romney’s VP, or that she’ll run for office sometime in the future once the GOP figures out it needs to drain its swamp if it wants to have any chance of consistently winning elections.
As for Paul Ryan’s speech….it was what it was. It’s hard to review it from a political angle rather than a policy-minded one. For the latter, it was the worst speech by far. For the former? I don’t know, I guess we’ll have to see how the polls play out. Nielsen estimated that there were 20 million fewer people watching Ryan than Palin in 2008. There’s some vibrant debate about what role the fact checkers are playing in this election. Can they break through the noise? Or will the politicians just continue to talk over them? I will point out that of all the dishonest claims in Ryan’s speech, the only one the campaign really pushed back on was the one about the GM plant closing. I think the reason behind that is because it’s the only factual inaccuracy that could easily be summed up in a headline: “Ryan blames Obama for a GM plant that closed under Bush.” An independent sees that headline and thinks, “This clown couldn’t even bother to Google and find out when a plant closed?” The other dishonest claims are diluted by nuance: $716 billion in cuts vs savings. Gutting welfare requirements vs strengthening them. Too much wonkery too far away from election day for most people to care.
Third day: The Gingrich speech. By now, the caricature-like lionization of Ronald Reagan has already happened. The liberals and moderates had their chance to help shape the memory of Reagan and they didn’t. He’ll now enter the history books as a great president. Still, I think even Republicans are growing bored with their year-round celebration of him, or at least they’re recognizing that running on the platform of a person who hasn’t been in power for 24 years only goes so far. But anyone still nostalgic over Reagan should be angry at the convention organizers for handing his memorial to Gingrich, however. It was the second worst speech of the entire convention, and by far the most wooden.
As for the worst speech, let’s not mince words here: The Clint Eastwood thing was an unmitigated disaster. Timing wise, it pushed the Romney tribute video, which was universally lauded by everyone and did a much better job of humanizing Romney than Ann’s speech, out of prime time. The Romney campaign spent all week hyping their mystery speaker. By choosing Clint Eastwood, they tried to look edgy and hip. Instead, they got an old man babbling incoherently to a chair, all while the convention-goers laughed nervously. The best part was when the camera cut to the flabbergasted looks from Paul Ryan and his wife, both of whom perked up and started smiling when they realized the camera was on them. After Romney’s speech, I flipped through the various cable networks and nearly all of them were as busy replaying clips from Eastwood as they were analyzing the candidate’s rhetoric. Millions of Americans are waking up today and flocking to YouTube to watch Eastwood’s speech, not Romney’s. And as with so many of Republican attempts at zingers, the Obama campaign was able to swoop in and cut them off at the kneecaps. The “This seat’s taken” pic that he tweeted and shared on Facebook speaks of a creativity and attentiveness to internet culture among his staffers unmatched by anyone working in the RNC’s communication department. It reminded me of the video game Mortal Kombat. “FINISH HIM!” the public screamed. Obama didn’t disappoint.
Rubio’s speech was great. As with Condi, I hope if he does run in 2016 it’ll be after the GOP has decided to drain its swamp. He didn’t sound like he was reading from a teleprompter. His cadence reminded me of Obama’s speeches. He had some actual clever zingers to deliver (“Obama’s ideas are the kind people travel to America to get away from.”). If Romney gets any real bump in the polls coming out of this convention, he should write a personal thank-you letter to Marco Rubio.
And then we had the grand finale. Romney’s speech falls under the banner of every other description that’s been ascribed to him: “Meh.” Most people agreed that it was “good enough,” but I would argue that it was only good enough not to have politically hurt him. It was fine-tuned enough to not alienate independents, but too fine-tuned to actually inspire them. I can’t really imagine the average American is going to get fired up over his saber rattling aimed at Iran, much less Russia. It spoke of a campaign trying to make a half-hearted play at winning a 2004 election. Not only is it not 2004, but Romney’s attempt was just half assed. I doubt liberals could even get mad watching him. His name-checking Staples and a few other major companies was smart. It gets people thinking, “I’ve heard of those companies. Romney must know something about business.” The rest of his speech was vague and meaningless, and carried at least one major blatant lie, that Obama will raise taxes on the middle class (again, not sure this will really hurt him politically).
Nate Silver, in his analysis of past convention bumps, says that Romney needs at least a four point bump in the polls just to maintain his pre-convention standing. Any bump smaller than that, his chances of winning actually diminish even more (he’s currently only at a 30% chance of winning in Silver’s projections already). Will he get a bump? Probably. Will it be above average? It’ll certainly be nowhere near the bump McCain and Palin saw in 2008. And we saw how well that worked out for them. If I were on Obama’s campaign, I would have left that convention feeling slightly more confident. But only slightly.
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