TAMPA — Maybe it wasn’t intentional, or maybe it was, but on the second night of the GOP convention, Republicans got to hear from the three men — Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty, and Paul Ryan — who were finalists to become Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate. Judging from the audience’s response to Ryan’s speech Wednesday night, there was no question the delegates overwhelmingly believe Romney made the right choice.
Leaving the hall, Republicans offered reviews of Ryan’s speech that ranged from “fantastic” to “awe-inspiring.” If any were underwhelmed, they didn’t show it.
Ryan’s 36-minute address did everything he needed to do: offer a devastating indictment of President Obama’s economic record, with a few memorable barbs about the president’s legendary self-importance; offer enough personal background so that viewers feel they know a little about Ryan; and most of all, convince voters that he and Mitt Romney will devote all their energy to jobs, the economy, and debt.
Ryan got it all done. In an interconnected narrative of Obama’s failures, he started with the stimulus — the money was not only wasted, but borrowed and wasted, Ryan said — and moved on to that period in 2009 and 2010 when the country was desperate for the president to devote his full attention to job creation. Obama instead pushed an unpopular national health care bill through Congress.
Bringing up Obamacare moved Ryan to Medicare and what he called the “biggest, coldest power play” — Obama’s decision to take more than $700 billion out of Medicare to pay for Obamacare. Once he broached the topic, Ryan not only did not avoid Medicare and entitlement reform — he spent five paragraphs pledging to tackle it head-on.
Ryan moved on to mock Obama’s tendency to confuse talking about something with actually doing something. The president recently said he hasn’t done well enough telling his story to the American people. “That’s the whole problem here?” Ryan asked incredulously. “Ladies and gentlemen, these past four years we have suffered no shortage of words in the White House. What’s missing is leadership in the White House.” The crowd loved it.
Ryan spent a lot of time talking about jobs and the economy, which countless polls show to be the voters’ number one concern. And it was on that crucial issue that he uttered perhaps the most striking words of the night. “College graduates should not have to live out their twenties in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life,” Ryan said. “Everyone who feels stuck in the Obama economy is right to focus on the here and now. And I hope you understand this too, if you’re feeling left out or passed by: You have not failed, your leaders have failed you.”
Through it all, Ryan managed to avoid the problems of Chris Christie’s speech from the night before — too much talk of hard truths and painful choices. Ryan’s message mostly steered clear of austerity and was more positive and reassuring, coming down to his much repeated line: “We can do this.”
In every speech, the politician who delivers it deserves the biggest share of credit or blame. But one of the authors of Ryan’s speech, former Bush White House speechwriter Matthew Scully, was also the author of Sarah Palin’s vice presidential address at the 2008 Republican convention. Regardless of what happened to Palin afterwards, that was a masterful speech. And so was Ryan’s. The Romney campaign is surely hoping that the star of the show, Mitt Romney himself, will do as well Thursday night.