Visual source: Newseum
From a campaign’s perspective, the goal of a party convention is to generate as much positive press for your presidential ticket as possible. That’s why you have speaker after speaker take to the stage to share warm memories of your candidate’s kind-heartedness. It’s why you put together elegant bigraphical videos. In other words, the whole point of a party convention from a media perspective is to trigger a news cycle during which pundits will write in awe about what a fantastic job your party has done “introducing” or selling the party nominee to the American public.
You do not want post-speech ink to be wasted writing about an empty chair.
And yet, Clint Eastwood’s “wait, what? is he really talking to an empty chair?” one-man play last night stole some much-needed morning after spotlight from Mitt Romney’s speech. Given the blandness of Romney’s speech, however, maybe it was the for better.
First…about that chair.
In case you missed the side-splitting analysis from Kos last night:
At first, people tried to work out why the old mumbly guy was hearing voices in his head. But it wasn’t his head, it was, uh the chair, which wasn’t much better. But wait, this could turn out genuinely funny. It was, after all, Clinton Fucking Eastwood! So for about three minutes, it was debatable how things might turn out. But then it was no longer debatable, as minute after interminable minute passed no coherent point or end in sight and people remembered that Clint Fucking Eastwood isn’t supposed to be funny! I mean, actual quote:
Do you just – you know – I know – people were wondering – you don’t – handle that OK.
So of course, we were rolling in laughter. And Team Romney spent the time during Mitt Romney’s speech sending out statements trying to spin their way out of their self-induced Clint Eastwood mess.
Annie Colbert at Mashable:
Eastwood’s ten-minute conversation with an “invisible Obama” had social media buzzing and meme generators working overtime.
Despite rousing speeches from Florida senator Marco Rubio and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook could not stop talking about Eastwood’s exchange with the chair.
The speech — or stand-up sketch? — even inspired a Twitter account with the handle @InvisibleObama. Within an hour of its creation, the account had more than 20,000 followers.
(@InvisibleObama has almost 37,000 followers as of this morning.)
If Eastwood’s speech was the pinnacle of absurdity and bizareness, Romney’s was the height of blandness.
We heard precious little about Mitt Romney’s plans for the country. By my count, Barack Obama’s 2008 convention speech spent 768 words describing his domestic and economic policies. Romney’s speech spent 260 words. There was almost no mention — and absolutely no description — of his budget, tax, health care or Medicare plans.
Based on his prepared remarks, the term that Mr. Romney used most often in the speech was America, which he said 53 times.
The next most common word? Americans, which he said 35 times. Other terms that Mr. Romney used at least 10 times in the speech included jobs, better, future, business — and mom and dad.[...] But Mr. Romney uttered the word Medicare just once. He never used the terms Social Security, welfare, or entitlement.
He never mentioned Iraq or Afghanistan, nor did he use the term terrorism, although he did refer to the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. [...] Mr. Romney only once mentioned his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, and then only to describe how he had chosen a woman as his Lieutenant Governor and appointed women to key cabinet positions. [...]
Instead, Mr. Romney’s strategy was pretty clear. He was seeking to fulfill the role of the generic Republican — a safe and unobjectionable alternative with a nice family and a nice career – and whose main credential is that he is not Mr. Obama, the Democratic president with tepid approval ratings and middling economic numbers.
It may be a smart approach.
Over at The New York Times, Frank Bruni argues that the attempt to “humanize” Romney, fine for convention theater, isn’t how Romney’s going to win this election:
He’s probably never going to match Obama’s likeability. He’s definitely never going to match the historic arc and emotional resonance of Obama’s political career, one that validated the American dream in a special way and suggested crucial progress in racial reconciliation. And he’s unlikely to persuade Americans that he’s better connected to their everyday problems, not with his offshore accounts and off-kilter way of talking about his wealth.
“Humanization” isn’t Romney’s path to victory. A few more disappointing jobs reports are.
Romney promised in his speech last night to create 12 million jobs, a promise that is as empty as Eastwood’s chair given that Romney failed to present any strategy that would lead to any job growth over the short-term. People need jobs now, and if the theme of Romney’s fall campaign is really to be “jobs, jobs , jobs”, then he’ll need to do a lot better than offering up platitudes and debunked claims that less regulation will magically stimulate America’s private sector to create millions jobs.
Jonathan Bernstein at The Washington Post looks at how Romney tried to present a version of the GOP that may be more palatable to the public:
The theme, instead, was to appeal to those who might vote for Republicans but had one of two hesitations: either that they really like Barack Obama and had warm feelings for the 2008 campaign; or that they would vote Republican but were fed up with the parade of failures and crazies, from George W. Bush to some of the wackier Tea Party candidates, who have been the faces of the party for the last decade. For the former, frequent reminders of 2008 accompanied by a more-in-sorrow-than-anger regret that Obama just didn’t work out. For the latter, a parade of normal people, mostly talking about how they or their parents or their grandparents had moved up from nothing to make it in America.
Both of those themes showed up in Romney’s speech tonight, and while he’s not capable of really making them soar — and, again, the structure of the thing failed to really bring it out very well anyway — they were probably good enough. Not that it means that Romney will necessarily win, but it does probably mean that he will get what he could coming out of the convention, moving a bit closer to achieving whatever the fundamentals of the contest would predict.
A generic speech and a generic convention for a generic Republican candidate.
E.J. Dionne, also at The Washington Post:
Speaking a few hours before Romney’s address, Andrew Kohut, head of the Pew research Center, said the surveys pointed to three imperatives for Romney: He had to make himself “more likeable, more credible and more empathetic.”
Thus the unusual amount of detail Romney provided about his family, complete with missing the “pile of kids” who would appear in his bedroom. Thus the long narrative about Bain Capital, aimed at changing the impression of a heartless business past that has reduced Romney’s appeal to blue collar voters. Such voters do not celebrate investors and employers with the same ebullience that greeted every mention of the private sector at this convention. The burden of having to telling his personal story fell heavily on this speech: It took up space and time and left the speech very thin on ideas and policy.
The Washington Post Editorial Board:
But Mr. Romney mostly repeated his five rather vague priorities for fixing the economy, adding little meat to the gauziness of past declarations. There was nostalgia for an earlier era of greater American confidence, without much detail about how to achieve a restoration. Promising to begin his presidency “with a jobs tour” — and jabbing, inaccurately, at Mr. Obama for starting his with an “apology tour” — is not a substitute for a serious policy.
Mr. Romney presented himself more as an empathetic manager than an ideological visionary. He mocked Mr. Obama’s grand claims with a direct and appealing promise “to help you and your family.” But this was not a speech in which he demonstrated how he would do so. He made no mention of the tough love and hard budget choices that earlier convention speakers had touted as central to the Republican plan. His argument against Mr. Obama was stronger than his pitch for himself.
Meanwhile, The New York Times Editorial Board takes Romney to task for his lies and his lack of any foreign policy substance:
Mr. Romney’s big speech, delivered in a treacly tone with a strange misty smile on his face suggesting he was always about to burst into tears, was of a piece with the rest of the convention. Republicans have offered precious little of substance but a lot of bromides (“A free world is a more peaceful world!”) meant to convey profundity and take passive-aggressive digs at President Obama. But no subjects have received less attention, or been treated with less honesty, than foreign affairs and national security — and Mr. Romney’s banal speech was no exception.
It’s easy to understand why the Republicans have steered clear of these areas. While President Obama is vulnerable on some domestic issues, the Republicans have no purchase on foreign and security policy. In a television interview on Wednesday, Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, could not name an area in which Mr. Obama had failed on foreign policy.
For decades, the Republicans were able to present themselves as the tougher party on foreign and military policy. Mr. Obama has robbed them of that by being aggressive on counterterrorism and by flexing military and diplomatic muscle repeatedly and effectively.
John Cassidy at The New Yorker:
[P]arty acceptance speeches aren’t primarily about detailed policy proposals or engaging in the debate between Keynesian economics and austerity economics. For somebody like Romney, who is challenging an incumbent with pretty low approval ratings, they are about trying to persuade the country that you are an able and honest fellow who wouldn’t be overawed by the Presidency. With the aid of some plausible-sounding character witnesses and some typically slick G.O.P. infomercials, Romney did what he had to do. Unfortunately for him, the only thing that most people will remember about it is the jarring picture of a frail-looking American screen legend, his hair askew, standing and talking in a halting voice to an empty chair.
Jay Bookman at The Atlanta Journal Constitution sums up most of the pundit reaction to Romney’s speech in his one word lede:
You can read the full text of Mitt Romney’s speech here.
You can catch up on the Daily Kos liveblog threads from last night starting here.