The condensed version of the Republican National Convention has drawn to a close, and out come of the scorecards. Who hit it out of the park in a lasting way, and who came limping out of Tampa? A few thoughts…
Mitt Romney: How many people tuned into his speech fearing the worst — meaning a lifeless, blasé, business-as-usual accounting of his years at Bain and blanket criticism of President Obama’s term? Or something similar to his speech before CPAC, where he turned up the volume more than the passion and threw out the head-scratching primary pander line about being a “severely conservative Republican”? One of Romney’s greatest accomplishments last night was not offering any odd or gaffe-y lines that would have overshadowed the Monday morning quarterbacking of the most important speech of his career. Instead, he gave a well-rounded talk that included touching personal bits and specific policy hits. He focused on the moderate voters without losing the conservatives. And someone lit a fire under him after a bit of a slow start — “wooden” could not be used to describe Romney in the second half of his speech last night. It’s doubtful that he can maintain this verve on the campaign trail, as he can’t change who he is, but for the night that mattered he let Americans see under the knife-and-fork-at-KFC uptight stereotype.
Mormons: The families brought up to tell the convention how Romney had reached out in their hours of need were both from his church, and the candidate himself dropped the “M” word for the first time in campaign reporters’ memories. The messaging was crafted to lessen fears about Romney’s faith but put the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the mainstream political conversation. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was pitching to C-SPAN last night that Mormons make great neighbors who don’t drink or smoke. I half-expected Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to walk out and make a pitch for the church’s charitable candidate.
House Republicans: Having Paul Ryan as the poster boy for your party in one of the least liked institutions in the country doesn’t hurt. The House Budget Committee chairman is the first sitting House member to be tapped for VP since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. Whereas Romney’s speech served to humanize a stiff candidate known mostly for his wealth, Ryan’s speech helped humanize those reviled politicos huddled in the office buildings flanking the Capitol. And his new national role, buoyed by a great debut speech, helps de-wonkify his “Path to Prosperity” labor-of-love budget plan.
Condoleezza Rice: Despite years of protestations by the former secretary of State that she’s not interested in running for office, the political world is now her oyster given the response to her speech. She could easily fill the void left by Colin Powell for Republicans who are looking for an accomplished, inspiring figure not all that far to the right who can handily win general elections.
Diversity: The RNC lineup was scripted to bring a noticeable gender, racial, and ethnic mix before the national television audience, but the execution came off with an easy, natural feeling. You just weren’t cool at the convention if you didn’t drop some español (with excellent pronunciation, mind you — gracias, Marco Rubio) into your speech. The nods by so many speakers to their immigrant families were also heartfelt and authentic, and the tales of life experiences such as Rice in Jim Crow Birmingham and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez working as a security guard in a border town were touching and highly effective.
Rand Paul: The younger Paul is handily paving his own way in the Senate. But this convention was almost a torch-passing — by dropping several libertarian planks and Paul family themes into his speech, the senator ensured that the Paul pack who has pushed his dad’s candidacies with religious fervor will be there for the younger Paul’s inevitable future presidential run, as well.
John Boehner: He’s long clamored for a shorter convention and, thanks to Isaac, his point was made that it can be done. Maybe even whittled down more. Now if he’d only get his GOP platform Cliff’s Notes…