Convention Fiasco

The balloons fell and the faithful cheered, but never has a convention shown so little about a candidate would govern

It wasn’t as bad as the Democratic Convention of 1972 which saw George McGovern give his acceptance speech at 2:00 AM, but given how conventions have become well planned and choreographed propaganda events for each party, I was shocked by how bad the GOP convention was.

Symbolic of the fiasco that blew Mitt Romney’s best chance to introduce himself anew to the American people was Clint Eastwood’s bizarre, rambling speech given at the height of prime time when everyone was tuning in.    This prime time slot is precious, and anyone planning the evening should know pretty much how every minute will unfold – nothing should be a surprise.

Now, the idea of having Clint Eastwood address the convention at this time is questionable in and of itself.   Eastwood’s appeal is mainly to older white males, a demographic already pretty much in Romney’s camp.   When an old, rich white guy says to a stadium of Republicans “we own this country,” it’s got to cause discomfort.    Some thought this move would be powerful because Eastwood had been in the GM super bowl commercial many thought friendly to Obama.     But that’s only something political junkies notice.    Eastwood earlier in the evening perhaps, but not at the height of prime time.

Curiosity turned to pity as Eastwood rambled his way, flubbed some jokes, and sometimes strayed way off message

But its political malpractice to put him out there without a script!  He was off message about Afghanistan, his discussion of Guantanamo Bay had no real point.     His manner was, well, doddering.   At times he verged on incoherence, with jokes that veered from lame to borderline offensive.    It was a train wreck.    Whoever thought it was a good idea to put him out there to try a bit of comedy without a pre-approved script and rehearsal should be fired.

Luckily for the GOP Marco Rubio gave a compelling speech, though aimed more at the base than independents

Marco Rubio, despite taking a sip of Clint’s water, helped reclaim the momentum with a very well delivered, compelling speech.   It was, in fact, the best speech of the convention (at least that was covered in prime time) and it set Rubio up for 2016 much like Obama’s 2004 Democratic keynote set him up for his 2008 run.   Rubio can still be criticized.   While he did have the most effective criticism of Obama, for a nomination speech he could have talked more about Romney’s accomplishments and vision.   But vague seemed to be the theme of the convention.

The fiasco started on the first night.   Ann Romney gave a decent speech trying a bit too hard to claim that she and Mitt were “just like any other family with problems.”     Yeah, but you also had a lot of money — that helps!   Still, she gave a good “first lady like” speech.   Then Chris Christie’s keynote, designed to make him the 2016 favorite (or for optimistic Republicans, 2020), was a belly flop.   Given Christie’s belly, that’s gotta hurt!

Chris Christie’s speech seemed more about himself than this election

Christie did launch some good hits on Obama, but otherwise failed to give an overall vision of what was different about Mitt Romney’s Republican party.    Much of what he said could have been said in 2004 about what Republicans stand for. Given that Romney’s chances to beat Obama are best if he stakes out new territory for the GOP – we’re not going to repeat the mistakes that created the collapse in 2008 – it isn’t that effective.   Moreover there was again little talk about Romney, and lots of red meat for the audience.   Conventions should motivate the true believers, but prime time is also when you have to reach out to the undecideds.

So what about Romney and Ryan?   Paul Ryan gave a moderately good speech, though not as powerful as Palin’s 2008 effort.   He inspired the base, but the discussion the next day was mostly about fact checkers and Republican claims that they don’t want to be limited by fact checkers.   The trouble with that is that it sounds like they’re saying they don’t want to be limited by facts.   Given that Ryan’s appeal has been that he is smart and honest, his foray into rhetoric stretches (to be favorable — others would say lies) damages his brand.    It also was formulaic and again seemed aimed more at the base than independents.

Mitt’s big chance squandered

The big disappointment, however, was Mitt Romney’s much anticipated effort to re-introduce himself to the voting public.  First of all, he delivery was poor.   He spoke too fast, swallowed some syllables, and his intonation was robotic and nervous.  He’s no Ronald Reagan obviously.   But of all the prime time speeches, his delivery was the least effective and engaging.   Clearly, Romney is who is his, he was never about to become a silver tongued orator.   But he’s good enough that he should have been able to have precise intonations, speak slower and with purpose, and try to connect.  It felt like he was simply trying to get through it.   He didn’t connect.

His content was vague —  again, a theme of the convention.   He launched attacks on Obama, but the attacks were generic. Any President in power during a global economic crisis could have been hit with the same charges.   Unemployment is high, are you better off than you were four years ago, he’s not done enough, etc.   He mentioned health care only twice, and vaguely – ‘we will repeal and replace Obamacare’.   OK, how?   He hardly mentioned foreign policy, and when he did it was vague, or in code.

For instance, there was an open mike incident over a year ago when President Obama told then Russian President Medvedev that he’d have more flexibility after the election.   Romney last night said (I’m paraphrasing)  that unlike being flexible with President Putin after the election he’d be tough from the start.   First, open mike incidents are only really noticed by political junkies, that reference went way over most peoples’ heads.  Second, what exactly does he mean?   Is Russia our enemy now?

He didn’t mention Afghanistan and his promise for a tough foreign policy was reminiscent of the kind of talk we used to hear from Vice President Cheney — though to his credit, Cheney tended to give details.    Romney finally got to his five point plan, but…it wasn’t a plan.   It was a list of promises – create new jobs, become energy independent, etc.   No plan, no policies, no hint of what he’d actually do, just a promise that he’d fix things.     His conclusion was a tad surreal:  “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

He said that with a mocking tone.   That sounds good to the base, but it seemed an odd way to try to seal the deal with independents — mock concern about global warming and claim concern about our families.  Huh?

The vague content, poor delivery, and general weakness of most of the rest of the speakers means that the GOP squandered its opportunity to define a new Republican party, one ready to avoid the mistakes of the Bush era and instead prepared to implement an effective pragmatic economic policy to do the job Obama failed to accomplish.

Romney still has the debates, and hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on the campaign.   Given the state of the economy the convention woes aren’t fatal to his candidacy.   However, given what was at stake, it must be worrisome for Republicans just how poorly team Romney planned and executed this convention.

UPDATE:  In judging from other critiques of the convention I may have seen it with a bit too much bias.   No one gives it glowing reviews, but most seem to think Romney did good enough.   In trying to judge political efficacy one is always biased to think others see something in the same way oneself does – the art of political analysis is to try to recognize it and adapt.

  1. #1 by lbwoodgate on August 31, 2012 - 18:58

    “When an old, rich white guy says to a stadium of Republicans “we own this country,” it’s got to cause discomfort.”

    The first thing that went through my mind when Eastwood said this is “Yeah, as part of the wealthiest 2% in this country, you do.” I like Eastwood as an actor but I’ve never shared his politics.

    It was tough to watch any of this convention but what little I did I found it void of any substance that would win over a true Independent voter. To believe that things can get better because one man in the White House will magically correct all our social and economic ills is simply naive.

    I never presumed that Obama would be 100% effective but I was hoping to he would have fought harder to promote his stimulus package than he did. The fact that it wasn’t big enough to address a crisis no one really knew was as deep as it was doesn’t mean stronger efforts shouldn’t have been tried. He listened too much to the worry warts who were intimidated by the anti-government crowd, the old John Birchers.

  2. #2 by Norbrook on August 31, 2012 - 21:07

    One of the things I’m not seeing in post-convention polling is a big “bounce” in the polls for Mitt Romney. Yes, he went up, and is “ahead” of President Obama, but it’s a razor margin, not a “oh, look at the big jump in numbers!” you might expect. Compared to the convention bounce that McCain had, or any other candidate in opposition to a sitting president, it’s not impressive. Given that this was supposed to “reintroduce” him to the American public, and his chance to define why he was “different” from the president (beyond being rich and white), I’d consider it a failure for him.

    • #3 by Scott Erb on August 31, 2012 - 21:15

      What polls have you seen? The Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls have all been about even, Romney or Obama veering up a little bit. Those are unchanged. Are there any other ones you’ve seen? I also note that Intrade odds, which were down near 55% mid-convention, went up to 57% on the day after. Ooops, just checked back there, 57.5%

      • #4 by Norbrook on August 31, 2012 - 21:18

        Before Convention – Obama 46 Romney 42
        After Convention – Obama 42 Romney 44

        Which, while a change, isn’t a big positive bounce fo Romney, and more than likely falls in the margin of error. That he’s not able to bounce into at least the high 40’s is not a good sign for him, and particularly since the Democratic convention is coming up.

  3. #5 by Alan Scott on September 1, 2012 - 00:42

    Scott ,

    I take issue with your comparison to the 1972 Democratic Convention . McGovern had so many problems that Romney did not have to confront. McGovern did not have the nomination sewed up before the convention . Because of this he had a tight deadline to pick his running mate . He wanted Ted Kennedy , but could not get him . He picked Thomas Eagleton , but did not vet him enough . Eagleton had gotten shock therapy, which really should not have been an issue, but was .

    • #6 by Scott Erb on September 1, 2012 - 01:08

      Well, I said it was NOT like the 1972 convention! I’m from South Dakota. Though I came to like McGovern, at the time I became active in politics for the first time, canvassing door to door for Richard Nixon. Nixon carried South Dakota that year too.

  4. #7 by classicliberal2 on September 1, 2012 - 02:32

    I was impressed that the fact-checkers universally panned Ryan’s godawful speech. Every speech of this nature has its share of bullshit, but this was among the worst I’d ever seen. I don’t understand why some thought he put on a good performance, either. I thought he looked stiff, uncomfortable, and totally unconvincing throughout. Of course, when almost everything you’re saying is a complete lie, it probably shouldn’t be easy to pull off. The GOP’s convention theme was “We Did Build It.” Relying as it does on a lie–a “refutation” of something Obama never, in fact, said–it’s makes for a perfect metaphor for this sick, sick party, as does the fact that the stadium in which they held their “We Did Build It” party was financed by taxpayers.

    Left Hook!

    • #8 by Scott Erb on September 1, 2012 - 04:10

      I agree on Ryan — I kept asking my wife “is this speech as bad as it seems to be to me?” She was silent, and others said it was good, so I doubted my instincts. The “we built that” theme also is odd — relying on a gaffe, one that easily can be shown to not mean what they claim — as a campaign theme seems pretty lame.

  5. #10 by plainlyspoken on September 1, 2012 - 22:56

    I believe the last time I watched a convention was when Reagan ran for office originally. Haven’t bothered since then as I feel that the convention speeches are really more like pre-win pats on the back of the candidate and the party. Just my opinion though.

    I prefer to watch candidate debates, especially if the questions come from the audience. I want to see candidates thinking on their feet and not (in most cases) working from a heavily reviewed script.

    I have read two transcripts so far from the convention (Eastwood’s and Ryan’s). Eastwood speech was more like an elderly man in the throws of mental decline. He was not a good choice for an off the cuff speaker at all. Ryan’s, while better left this independent empty of any belief that another Republican team in the White House would be a positive for the nation.

    While I, as many, don’t like all Obama has done I don’t find – atm still – any compelling reason not to support him in a second term (though I would be grateful if he could get Biden to shush up – I’ve listened to him too many years and he tends to say too many embarrassing things).

    I hope Biden isn’t going to seek the Presidency in 2016 – Democrats will have a tough time getting him elected I believe.

    • #11 by Norbrook on September 2, 2012 - 02:02

      One of the commentaries I saw about Eastwood’s speech was from a Republican strategist, and they thought it was a disaster, in terms of letting him speak extemporaneously without serious rehearsals. Their general opinion was along the lines of “I see what you were trying to do, but the execution of it failed.”

      Ryan’s speech, besides massively failing the fact checks, seemed to be “more of the same” from the Republicans. Which, given the past record, isn’t something that will mean new ideas for handling the country’s problems.

  6. #12 by John Squires on April 1, 2014 - 14:17

    “For instance, there was an open mike incident over a year ago when President Obama told then Russian President Medvedev that he’d have more flexibility after the election. Romney last night said (I’m paraphrasing) that unlike being flexible with President Putin after the election he’d be tough from the start. First, open mike incidents are only really noticed by political junkies, that reference went way over most peoples’ heads. Second, what exactly does he mean? Is Russia our enemy now?”

    How’s that working out now? Seems old Mitt was on the money.

    • #13 by Scott Erb on April 1, 2014 - 14:22

      Uh, no, Mitt would have been a disaster on foreign policy. Obama is handling Russia correctly. Of course, Mitt said that if he’d been President Russia wouldn’t have taken the Crimea. That’s one of the stupidest statements about foreign policy Mitt’s made, he clearly doesn’t understand Russian interests and policy if he thinks that tough talk in the White House (or anyone else in the White House) would have made a difference. I’ve very glad we avoided a Romney Presidency, I think Obama will be remembered as one of the greats.

      • #14 by John Squires on April 1, 2014 - 14:38

        Heh heh heh, whatever you say.

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