TAMPA – Mitt Romney didn’t knock it out of the park tonight. Instead, he delivered a serviceable speech with some humanizing touches and strong lines, but without a cohesive narrative.
The final stretch of the convention was uneven. It started out with stories of people who benefited from Romney’s personal generosity and those who worked with him in business, led by the co-founder of Staples. There was also a great biographical video featuring home movies of the Romney family that made him seem a bit more like a regular guy. But that fed into a bizarre, unscripted and rambling speech by Clint Eastwood in which he had an imaginary conversation with Obama, who was represented by an empty chair. It would have been bad under any circumstances, but it was particularly problematic because it squandered 15 minutes of the crucial prime time hour. Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a stirring speech introducing Romney, but unfortunately because of the Eastwood debacle it was about 10:36 by the time Romney took the stage. That meant the Romney speech spilled past 11 pm, when early risers on the east coast might have been falling asleep.
As for Romney’s speech itself, at times, it felt kind of paint by numbers. Appeal to women voters. (Check.) Talk about the economy. (Check.) Criticize Obama’s foreign policy. (Check.) Talk about his business record. (Check.) Throw in some touching biographical story. (Check.) Offer a few proposals. (Check.) All of that said, these were boxes he needed to check off.
There were some compelling moments – such as the story of his dad buying a rose for his mother every day. And he clearly became more passionate when he talked about risk-taking and free enterprise. The strongest line of the speech, I thought, was when he said that, “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.” It was a great way to remind the audience of the grandiose promises that Obama made when he ran for president while also vowing to keep his eyes on the more important stuff if elected.
It was similar to what we heard from Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan when he spoke of the twenty-somethings with “fading Obama posters,” and I think we’ll be hearing a lot more along these lines during the fall campaign. To borrow a policy term, it’s essentially an effort by the Romney-Ryan ticket to set the baseline against which Obama’s presidency will be judged. If Obama can convince voters that the baseline for comparison should be the economy in the first few months of his presidency, then he can get reelected. But if Romney-Ryan can convince voters that Obama should be measured against his lofty rhetoric four years ago, then they’ll likely win. Essentially, they want to boil down the argument to one that most people can agree on: Obama overpromised, and under-delivered.