Commentary Magazine


Romney Passes His Big Test

Heading into the Republican National Convention, the big question for Republicans was whether their candidate could be humanized as well as whether he could deliver an acceptance speech that could properly launch the fall campaign. At the conclusion of the convention, the answer to both questions is an unequivocal yes.

Over the course of the three days, viewers got a better idea of who the man Republicans were nominating. They heard stories about his humanity, service to others and his faith as well as his business success. And in his acceptance speech, he showed himself a plainspoken man who was moved by the ordinary gifts of life as well as by his love of country. It may not have been a great speech but it was probably the best one he has ever given on a night when he needed to be come across as more than a middling political talent. Though no acceptance speech is really the make or break moment of any presidential election, Romney passed the test he had been set.

In a sense, the Democrats did Romney a favor by spending the last few months doing their best to demonize him. With the left determined to portray him as a heartless plutocrat the bar was set fairly low for Romney as far as brightening up his image. While the convention had its less than edifying moments — Clint Eastwood’s bizarre and sometimes tasteless dialogue with an imaginary Barack Obama being the most prominent — the time spent discussing Romney’s life and philosophy was very well spent.

Beginning with Ann Romney’s star turn on Tuesday night and continuing on Thursday with the testimonials from those whose families the candidate had helped as a Mormon lay leader, the nation was given a more realistic portrait of the man the Democrats have sought to besmirch. Though Romney is obviously not comfortable talking about himself, he was able to convey some of his depth of feeling about his family, his faith and his principles.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the convention was the way it showed how deep the Republican bench is with new stars like Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez, Chris Christie and Romney’s vice presidential choice Paul Ryan. But as much as a lot of the attention was devoted to these new faces, Romney still succeeded in putting forward a strong case that he has the ability to tackle a weak economy and the backbone to stand up for American interests and the cause of freedom. He also came across as an admirable if not as likeable as some critics seemed to demand.

Romney touched on familiar themes about Obama’s failures as well as trying to counter the Democratic charge that the GOP is waging a war on women. But when Romney contrasted the president’s messianic pledge about turning back the oceans with his own more humble promise to help American families, he struck exactly the right note. By choosing Ryan and by setting forth a critique of Obama’s creed of big government, Romney also gave voters a clearly delineated choice about the future of the country.

Romney has now passed the humanity test and showed he can articulate a coherent argument for his presidential ambitions. The stage is now set for a fall campaign in which the Republicans are no longer facing quite as uphill a slog as many thought they would have. President Obama has enormous advantages heading into his own convention. He has the power of incumbency, a status as an historic figure, an adoring mainstream media and a party that is willing to brand any criticism of him as a form of racism. Yet this week, Romney took an important step toward giving himself a chance to win in November.