MSNBC did not serve its dwindling audience very well Tuesday night. While the nation could have heard from a bevy of rising Republican stars who have compelling stories to tell, MSNBC decided it would serve up snark instead. So the speeches of former Rep. Artur Davis, Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz, and Utah congressional candidate Mia Love were all ignored by the cable net that once called itself the “place for politics.”
While these minority Republicans were delivering their speeches, MSNBC went almost all-white on the air with Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Steve Schmidt, and Al Sharpton.
How does it feel to be a token, Rev. Al?
The speeches MSNBC ignored were terrific. Ted Cruz brought a dash of Texas to the stage as he told the story of his parents’ escape from Castro’s Cuba. Rep. Artur Davis threatened to be a show-stealer as he described his journey from being Barack Obama’s 2008 co-chairman to a Republican just four years later. The contrast between the Republicans’ “get” with Davis and the Democrats’ “get” with Charlie Crist was so striking that on Twitter I observed that in this switch the GOP had made the best trade since the Dallas Cowboys bankrupted the Minnesota Vikings in the Herschel Walker trade. The ‘Boys got three Super Bowl rings out of that one, while the Vikings got bupkis.
MSNBC didn’t avoid the night entirely. During Chris Christie’s speech, host Alex Wagner snarked a time or two on Twitter. From Wagner the world got the sterling observation that Christie’s call at the end of his speech, to stand with him and fight for Mitt Romney, was “aerobic.” Fat jokes from a thin, attractive newsreader. Har de har.
The star of the night was Ann Romney, which of course was the plan all along. On the jumbotrons overhead, that they had framed her on a sea of moving red, which quickly changed to blue to set off her blonde hair and red dress. But in the room there is no framing, just a singular figure on a very large stage surrounded by thousands of convention attendees, reporters, workers, and onlookers. Ann Romney owned the moment, exuding class and grace from the start. Mrs. Romney is not by nature a public speaker, so the stagecraft went in the direction of conversation rather than address, which was a very good choice. She can tell a story. As she talked about her and Mitt’s marriage and family, the large LCD paneled screen set behind her transformed into a mammoth family photo album. Here were photos of a younger Ann and Mitt, over there were photos of their boys as children and growing up. When I first saw the stage during Monday’s backstage tour I was a little skeptical that the wooden frames accenting the very modern video screens would work, but it all worked together quite well and lent the massive Tampa Bay Times Forum the feel of a living room.
To watch the speeches, I was in a little press box about two-thirds of the way up the arena and off to one side of the stage. From there I could see well both the speaker and the audience as it reacted. There was a row of women immediately in front of me, and they were all eating Romney’s speech up. When she described the Romneys’ marriage not as a storybook but as a real marriage, they cheered enthusiastically. Ann Romney swept the room off its feet, appealing not just to women but to everyone.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s speech was not as strong, but I suspect that that was the plan, too. Let Mrs. Romney deliver the climax of the night, and then let Christie come back to remind America that the Republicans are the party that is serious: serious about jobs, serious about the national debt, serious about entitlement reform, serious about America’s future.