Commentary Magazine


Convention Isn’t All About the Nominee

I don’t know if Chris Christie has read the critiques of his keynote speech last night, but it doesn’t matter much now–especially since the criticism was mostly nonsense. But it’s exceedingly important that Paul Ryan–the star of tonight’s show–does not read the reaction to Christie’s speech. There were two major complaints about Christie’s speech–which, by the way, as Politico notes, was approved by the Romney camp with no complaints. The first is that Christie spoke too much about himself, and the second is that he didn’t speak enough about Mitt Romney.

Goodness gracious. The reason Christie spoke so much about his own experience in New Jersey is because that experience has shaped the entire justification for, and communications strategy of, the Romney-Ryan campaign. They have decided to run as reformers who speak hard truths and treat voters as adults. And most significantly, with Romney’s selection of Ryan, they have decided that political “third rails” can be touched, and perhaps even stomped on a bit. They have chosen, in other words, to follow Christie’s lead.

Therefore, it is much more important for the Romney-Ryan ticket—especially Ryan—to learn from Christie how to communicate that strategy to the public in order to win support for what are thought to be unpopular, or at least very risky, ideas. Since Ryan represents more of this political risk than Romney, it’s even more important for Ryan not necessarily to mimic Christie—Ryan has to speak in his own voice, of course—but to learn how to change minds on these issues, and to hear what works and what doesn’t. What nobody needs is a convention that turns into a worshipful cult of personality. The Democrats’ 2008 coronation need not be reproduced, now or ever.

The Republican Party should not aspire to be a one-man army, and it needs to remind voters that its adherents can govern. The Republican Party, given the earmark-a-palooza and other unsavory elements of its congressional majority in the early years of this young century, is attempting to rehabilitate its reputation by projecting competence and showing itself to consist of a broad array of diverse problem solvers. Every speaker at the convention–and check the schedule, there are a great many–mentions Romney. It is only at certain times appropriate to speak at length about him. As the Politico story notes, Christie understood that:

Christie addressed this choice Wednesday at breakfast for New Hampshire and Pennsylvania delegates. With Ann Romney speaking first, Christie said in comments quoted on the BuzzFeed website, “it freed me up — remember, she was supposed to be going Monday night and because of the hurricane, it was canceled — so instead both of us were on the same night.”

“It actually freed me up to put the choice into more general terms. It allowed me to be able to let Ann Romney talk about Mitt Romney the person.”

If Ryan’s speech shies away from the issues Republicans claim are sending this country fast off a cliff in favor of platitudinous praise of the party’s nominee, it will be a monumental waste of everyone’s time, and undercut the entire rationale for Ryan’s selection as vice presidential nominee. Additionally, Ryan will be introducing himself to a certain degree tonight, or at least continuing his introduction. Let Christie be Christie, and Ryan be Ryan.