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…
Foreign policy: Which, by extension, could put “Iran” in the winners column. The only speeches to really focus on the role of the U.S. in the world were ably delivered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rice. Despite hitting on crucial points from defense cuts to the Reagan philosophy of American leadership, the RNC crowd wasn’t especially jazzed. The topic was just touched on by some other speakers, including Romney. This is a reflection of the growing split between non-interventionists and hawks, and how economic woes at home have overshadowed the world falling down around the ears of many in various corners of the globe.
Tea Party: The closest mention the movement got was a nod to the primary defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) — which probably thrilled the RNC, now facing a potentially lost seat — as “something that has dumbfounded the chattering class” in the televangelist-style speech of Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz. But this could also portend a Tea Party break from the GOP after this election cycle, so stay tuned. Tea Partiers weren’t surprised that they were stuck in the cheap seats, so to speak, by the RNC, and the convention experience could add fuel to their exit strategy.
Big Tent: It’s highly debatable whether the RNC handled the Ron Paul delegates in the best way possible. And delegates were understandably up in arms over a rule change that allows the GOP presidential candidate to veto and replace state delegates. The most damaging optics, though, came during the roll call of states for the party’s nomination. Many states announced a handful of delegate votes for Paul, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), and even former governors Buddy Roemer (R-La.) and Jon Huntsman (R-Utah). Yet in reading back each state’s votes, the RNC only announced the votes for Romney. In the committee’s zeal to force a picture of unquestioning party unity around the winning candidate, an unattractive portrait of exclusion and control was painted.
Santorum: Remember that maxim about not losing your big speech to a slip that overshadows what you were actually trying to say? The former Romney challenger torpedoed that in reminiscing on his campaign meet-and-greets across the country, using “hands” 25 times. Suddenly my Twitter timeline was full of “Sweet Caroline” lyrics (“hands… touching hands…”), and Santorum’s speech, which included some touching parts, was relegated to jokes (not just for this, but for sounding like a nomination acceptance speech). Honorable mention to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for this spiel to illustrate the importance of school choice: “Go down in the supermarket aisle and you will find an incredible selection of milk. You can get a whole milk, buttermilk, 2 percent milk, low-fat milk, or skim milk, organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D. There’s flavored milk, chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla. And it doesn’t even taste like milk. They even make milk for people who cannot drink milk.”
Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty: Not bad, not good, and just as bland (save for their attempts at humor) as everyone feared in the veepstakes speculation. The two might look forward to cabinet posts in a future Republican administration, but will probably cease to be heard on the lips of anyone talking about a national ticket.