TAMPA — Top Romney campaign officials knew Ann Romney faced a tough job addressing the first night of the Republican convention. Even though she has played an increasingly prominent role on the campaign trail, Mrs. Romney has never given a speech like her convention address, never under such pressure and never before so many people.
Facing that challenge, Romney advisers did everything they could to prepare Mrs. Romney and make her comfortable. Not only did they create a stage, a podium, and a prompter for her rehearsals, they even had her practice the speech with pre-recorded audience applause and sounds, to familiarize her with the rhythms of a major speech.
The result was a big success. Mrs. Romney succeeded in conveying to the audience in the hall — and, the campaign hopes, to the millions watching on television — her love for her husband, her belief in his essential goodness, and, perhaps most importantly, her implicit faith in his abilities. “This man will not fail,” she assured the audience near the end of her speech. “This man will not let us down.”
Mrs. Romney clearly believes that if she were flying in a plane, and the pilot died from a heart attack, Mitt Romney would find a way to land the plane safely. She wanted to communicate that faith to the audience, and she did.
The campaign enjoyed less success with the convention’s keynote speaker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Christie had his moments — perhaps his best came when he said the country requires “leadership that you don’t get from reading a poll.” “You see, Mr. President,” Christie continued, “real leaders don’t follow polls. Real leaders change polls.”
Overall, though, Christie’s address, which focused largely on his own accomplishments in New Jersey and was light on attacks on President Obama, failed to convey the spirit — the essential Christie-ness — that millions have seen in YouTube videos of the New Jersey governor in action. Watching Christie’s speech was a reminder that most, if not all, of the great Chris Christie moments we’ve seen have been spontaneous encounters between Christie and others, usually hostile encounters in which Christie flamboyantly puts down some jerk who was unwise enough to take him on. What Christie is not as famous for is the big set-piece speech, and that was his task Tuesday night in Tampa.
A number of conservatives praised the portions of Christie’s speech in which he promised the Republican ticket would tell “hard truths” to Americans. “Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good paying private sector jobs again in America,” Christie said. “Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the torrent of debt that is compromising our future and burying our economy. Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the debacle of putting the world’s greatest health care system in the hands of federal bureaucrats and putting those bureaucrats between an American citizen and her doctor.”
“Our problems are big and the solutions will not be painless,” Christie added. “We all must share in the sacrifice.”
The lines were particularly appealing to Republicans who stress the entitlement reforms and spending cuts in the Romney-Ryan economic plan. There’s pain ahead, they say, and voters need to get used to the idea. But a lot of voters are already in pain. And all Americans have had a pretty painful decade. After September 11, two long and difficult wars, and a terrifying economic collapse followed by what feels like four years of deep recession, many Americans want to hear the candidates’ plans to make things better. Less painful. Happier. Better.
That’s what Ann Romney promised her husband could do. She didn’t talk about making things harder. They’re already hard right now. She talked about making things better. “I don’t think there’s a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy,” she said. “In our own ways, we all know better!”
“And that’s fine. We don’t want easy. But these last few years have been harder than they needed to be. It’s all the little things — that price at the pump you just can’t believe, the grocery bills that just get bigger; all those things that used to be free, like school sports, are now one more bill to pay. It’s all the little things that pile up to become big things. And the big things — the good jobs, the chance at college, that home you want to buy, just get harder. Everything has become harder.”
Christie promised to make things harder still. Ann Romney talked about making things better.