Throughout the winter and spring, supporters of defeated libertarian extremist Rep. Ron Paul were fond of claiming that they had the power to either disrupt the Republican National Convention or generate enough defections in November to sabotage the mainstream GOP’s efforts to win back the presidency. Though the Paulbots managed to amuse some bored members of the press corps at the Tampa convention, their attempts to gain attention barely deserved to be called a distraction. Their threats about affecting the vote in the general election appear to be even emptier as polling showed that much of Paul’s limited support came from Democrats crossing over to participate in GOP primaries and caucuses. However, it appears that the libertarian fringe could actually materially affect the outcome in a way that no one seems to have foreseen.
As the Associated Press reports today, three of the Republicans who will become members of the Electoral College should Mitt Romney win their states are now saying they will refuse to vote for the Republican. All three are Paul backers who somehow managed to be appointed to this usually symbolic post but who have the power to thwart the will of the voters if that is their pleasure. Two are from potential tossup states, Iowa and Nevada. Another is from Texas, a state certain to go Republican this fall. All profess to be not merely disgusted with Romney’s relatively moderate stands on the issues but angry with some of the petty slights dealt out to Paul delegates in Tampa. Together, they could deprive Romney of a majority should the election turn out to be a nail-biter. If this happens, those in the GOP leadership who insisted on net letting Paul’s name be placed in nomination or in counting the votes cast for him will rue their decisions.
The motto of the Republican Convention in Tampa last week was “We Built It.” Speakers repeated the line (sometimes to excess), videos were played on the theme, signs and banners lined the convention center. By the end of the week, nobody present in Tampa could be unaware that during a speech earlier this year, President Obama claimed that small business owners didn’t build their businesses alone.
The GOP highlighted several speakers during the week that had inspiring stories of building small businesses out of nothing, who risked what little they had to build companies that would become employers. One speaker, Sher Valenzuela, appeared in the early evening on Tuesday and set the tone for the rest of the convention. Valenzuela and her husband (a second-generation Mexican-American), devastated by their son’s autism diagnosis, started a business in order to pay for his care.
It may well be that only political junkies are glued to the television channels showing the political conventions these days but they remain a valuable medium for the parties to reach out to potential voters. That’s why the choices made by the organizers in terms of speakers and topics are significant in that they signal which demographic groups the parties are most interested in reaching.
Last week, the Republicans devoted some time to playing to their base but the main focus was on convincing wavering Democrats and independents that President Obama’s economic failures were a reason to turn him out of office. Their sloganeering centered on the president’s denigrating individual initiative. They mentioned their opposition to ObamaCare but most of their convention rhetoric wasn’t aimed at conservatives or Tea Partiers but at those who voted for the president four years ago.
But the first night of the Democratic National Convention has been strictly about rallying the liberal base.
For hours, Democratic speakers have been speaking about abortion, ObamaCare and lauding big government initiatives. Democratic delegates have loved it.
But does the Obama campaign really think offering a speaking position to the most extreme advocates of abortion on demand, including late term and partial birth procedures appeals to the majority of Americans who do not wish to make all abortions illegal but support reasonable restrictions?
On June 14th, 1936, two days after Alf Landon accepted the nomination of the Republican Party for president, a New York Times columnist wrote:
The stage show looked like America, but the convention hall did not. The crowd seemed like the sanctuary of a minority — economically wounded capitalists in shades from eggshell to ecru, cheering the man . . . and trying to fathom why they’re not running the country anymore. The speakers ranted about an America in decline, but the audience reflected a party in decline.
Listening to three days of the Republican Convention, I was struck by some very effective speeches (Governor Susana Martinez, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio), one shall we say idiosyncratic speech (Clint Eastwood), and the nominee’s own, which if not a modern-day Cross of Gold was certainly more than adequate.
The best line, undoubtedly, was, “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.” In one sentence it contrasted President Obama’s unpleasant narcissism and Romney’s instinctive self-deprecation, Obama’s utter disregard (even after the severe rebuke of the 2010 election) of what the country wanted him to work on in order to pursue his own personal agenda, and Romney’s concentration on the ailing American economy and the impending fiscal crisis. It reminded me a bit of what is surely the best pun in American political history, Gerald Ford’s “I’m a Ford not a Lincoln.”
The electoral strategies of both the Republican and Democratic parties contain an element of identity politics, though generally of very different kinds. Republican identity politics usually centers on faith and a middle America culture distinct from the coastal elitism of the Democrats. The Democratic Party bases its electoral strategy more and more on race to the exclusion of almost anything else, though this year the Obama White House has conjured a “war on women” to highlight gender as well.
Republicans and conservatives often complain that the Democrats’ race-obsessed political outlook has two major faults: one, that candidates and voters are judged to an overwhelming degree on the color of their skin, and two, that when a member of a racial or ethnic minority group that usually votes Democratic becomes a high-profile Republican, the left seeks to destroy their career with unusual ferocity. (Think Miguel Estrada, Clarence Thomas.) But at the Republican National Convention this week conservatives saw just why the left’s identity politics can be so effective, and why they try so hard to tear down any dissenters: biography matters.
After a week of speeches, a hurricane watch, endless clips of President Obama saying “You didn’t built that,” speeches, silly hats, balloons and whatever it is that you want to call what Clint Eastwood did last night, the Republican National Convention is finally over.
We’ll have the Labor Day weekend to catch our breath and then be confronted with the Democrats infomercial in Charlotte. But before we get ready to digest the Obama and Biden show, here is a roundup of some winners and losers from Tampa.
Mitt Romney delivered exactly the speech he needed to give last night, no more and no less. His job was to show his human side (as Jonathan wrote) and present himself as presidential, while also reaching out to key groups (women, independents, disenchanted Obama voters). He checked all of those boxes.
There were moving lines in the speech (the rose anecdote, the remarks about children growing up), but Romney seems to know his strengths, and didn’t try to compete against the superstar speakers like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, or Chris Christie. It wouldn’t have worked, and he didn’t need to, anyway. The whole convention lineup leading up to Romney’s speech was effective at personalizing him, vouching for his character, elucidating the Romney-Ryan vision, and offering an ideological critique of Obama’s presidency. By the time Romney took the stage, most of it had already been said; he just had to get the convention over the finish line.
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.
We’ve heard a lot of political rhetoric this week from the Republican National Convention. Most of it centered on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” quote and other GOP talking points. Paul Ryan showed his party was ready to rumble with the Democrats in defense of a stand in favor of entitlement reform. But tonight for the first time this week and perhaps even this year, we’re hearing about who this man the Republicans nominated really is.
This evening, we heard from those who worked with and were helped by Romney during his years as a Mormon pastor. The Oparowski family spoke of how Romney befriended their 14-year-old son who was dying from Leukemia. It was a sad touching story and the reaction from the audience showed there didn’t appear to be a dry eye in the house except perhaps in the MSNBC booth. After that we heard from a woman with a similar story of Romney’s goodness. His assistant pastor told of how Romney didn’t so much preach as lead by example. His theology was service to others. No matter what your faith is or even if you don’t believe in religion, there is no escaping the fact that this is a righteous and very good man.
A major aspect of the way we judge presidential candidates is by their character. Disagree with his policies if you like, but there’s no doubt that this is a man of sterling character whose personal virtues are beyond question. Given the vicious attacks launched against Romney’s character by the Obama campaign, these are stories that need to be told and retold by Republicans.
Mitt Romney continued his Bain Capital defense blitz today, unveiling a website and video campaign touting his record at the firm. The name of his new website, SterlingBusinessCareer.com, alludes to Bill Clinton’s praise of Romney a few months back. The videos feature former Bain employees extolling Romney’s work at the helm of the company:
Despite Obama’s barrage of attacks on Romney’s Bain record, it’s not clear whether the attacks have stuck. The Obama campaign has hammered almost every conceivable anti-Bain angle, going so far as to suggest Romney committed a felony on the company’s SEC filings. What else do they have to say on the topic? They’re running out of stories.
Since the real drama of the political nominating conventions—the actual nominations—no longer applies, the pressure is on the big names, especially the headliners, to deliver a rousing speech. The press corps still have stories to file from the conventions, and “Republicans nominate Mitt Romney for president” just isn’t going to cut it—we all knew that going in. So the speeches themselves—words, not action—become the moments to analyze.
The expectations only build as the nights wear on–as Chris Christie found out when he delivered a solid speech but had to follow Ann Romney’s blockbuster. Last night, it seemed for a while that Paul Ryan would not have too high a bar to clear–until Condoleezza Rice brought the house down. But Ryan rose to the occasion nonetheless. Tonight, it’s Mitt Romney’s turn, and he will be swinging for the fences. The Washington Postreports that Romney is taking the task as seriously as expected:
Count me among the many who were wowed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brilliant speech at the Republican National Convention last night. She didn’t just add a note of foreign policy gravitas to a convention that served up a seemingly endless roster of mid-level GOP figures riffing on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe. Rice’s address was as much about belief in the idea of America as it was about contemporary political disputes. She left the podium not only having won the hearts of the audience with her recollection of her own rise from a childhood in the segregated south to the heights of power but left a lot of her listeners wondering whether she was interested in a future run at the presidency and making comparisons to other great convention speeches in the past that were stepping-stones to the White House.
However, those so intoxicated by her rhetorical achievement that they are now pondering Rice’s future need to take a deep breath. It was a great speech and Rice has shown she can be a formidable surrogate for Mitt Romney or anyone else she chooses to support. But Rice is never going to be a viable presidential candidate. Nor is she likely to assume any post in a Romney administration. I can’t answer the question on so many tongues this morning about what it is that Condi Rice wants. Only she can do that. But a logical analysis of her prospects requires us to accept that whatever it is she aspires to, high political office isn’t likely to be in her future.
The Associated Press and other fact-checkers are insisting that the line about the Janesville GM factory in Paul Ryan’s speech last night was inaccurate — and once again, the fact-checkers are wrong. Here’s the AP’s allegation against Ryan:
RYAN: Said Obama misled people in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., by making them think a General Motors plant there threatened with closure could be saved. “A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.”
THE FACTS: The plant halted production in December 2008, weeks before Obama took office and well before he enacted a more robust auto industry bailout that rescued GM and Chrysler and allowed the majority of their plants — though not the Janesville facility — to stay in operation. Ryan himself voted for an auto bailout under President George W. Bush that was designed to help GM, but he was a vocal critic of the one pushed through by Obama that has been widely credited with revitalizing both GM and Chrysler.
The AP might want to check back on its own reporting on the plant closure, starting with this article from April 19, 2009, headlined “GM plant in Janesville to close for good this week”:
Some good news for the Romney campaign this morning. Mitt Romney hasn’t even made his convention speech yet, and he’s already seeing a small bump in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll:
Republican Mitt Romney pulled even with President Barack Obama in a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Wednesday, getting a boost from his party’s nominating convention in Tampa this week.
In a four-day rolling poll, Romney and Obama were deadlocked among likely voters at 43 percent each. That was an improvement for Romney from Obama’s two-point lead on Tuesday and four-point lead on Monday.
“There is movement toward Romney, which is traditional for a convention,” Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said. “It’s small and the change is incremental, but it’s been moving the last couple of days.”
Day two of the Republican convention showed no sign of letting up on its “you didn’t build that” theme, though the formal premise of the night was a slight adjustment to it: the phrase “we can change it.” But in a somewhat surprising moment, Paul Ryan seemed to accept the Obama administration’s complaint that the quote was taken out of context. Ryan offered an alternative riff on the phrase, implicitly explaining to the president why the context doesn’t exonerate him.
The president and his allies say that in context, it’s clear the president meant that government deserves some, but not all, the credit for these businesses for maintaining American infrastructure. But the full context, as I have written before, doesn’t help the president much because of the way he seemed to be mocking those who were successful. In a derisive tone, Obama said: “I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.” So last night, Ryan said this:
Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing. All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere. A lot of heart goes into each one. And if small businesspeople say they made it on their own, all they are saying is that nobody else worked seven days a week in their place. Nobody showed up in their place to open the door at five in the morning. Nobody did their thinking, and worrying, and sweating for them. After all that work, and in a bad economy, it sure doesn’t help to hear from their president that government gets the credit. What they deserve to hear is the truth: Yes, you did build that.
When Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate Democrats rejoiced. They were sure that the elevation of the author of the Republican Congress budget plan that called for reform of entitlements like Medicare guaranteed the president’s re-election. They had already been planning to run hard against the Ryan budget no matter who was on the GOP ticket. But having Ryan as their piñata seemed like a dream come true.
But tonight at the Republican National Convention, as Ryan got his prime time spot accepting his nomination, the rest of the country began to understand why conservatives have been so devoted to him. Ryan’s speech was not merely well executed but an example of how he earned his reputation as the intellectual leader of his party. Even more important, he showed that he and the man at the top of the ticket plan to run on the reformist ideas that Democrats think work to their advantage. Far from shying away from the Obama campaign’s Mediscare tactics, they are ready to rumble on a platform aimed at saving entitlements against the status quo policies of the administration.
Tonight, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, one of the most intelligent men in politics, gave a pretty straightforward version of the speech Chris Christie’s critics complained he had not delivered last night—full of head-on assaults on Barack Obama, praise for Romney, drawing sharp contrasts, throwing out applause lines, lots of red meat. And here’s the thing—it didn’t really work. True, Portman is not half the speaker Christie is, and doesn’t have Christie’s outsized personality. But the problem with the speech was its conception. There’s something discomfiting about the direct attack that involves beating up on someone who isn’t there to defend himself or to be defended. It doesn’t convince you unless you’re already convinced. Certainly, preaching to the choir is part of what a convention should do to fire up the delegates and workers. But Christie was delivering a nationally televised address watched by 25 million people, and for them, you have to do something else. You make your own case and you criticize the opposing view, but you have to do so in a manner that does not seem unfair, unjust, or cheap—otherwise you will lose that part of your audience you can convince. Christie focused his speech on the future, not the past. I think the Portman misfire shows that Christie did the right thing politically.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, one of the Republican surprises in the wave election of 2010, made his national debut just now at the Republican convention with what can only be described as a humdinger. He simply began his speech in the middle. “When I heard about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Obamacare,” he started, “I thought, ‘But it’s unconstitutional.’” He went on to connect his view with the views of the Federalists about limited government, connected them cleverly to the convention’s “you didn’t build that” theme, and offered a brilliantly succinct explanation of the problem with centralized populist attacks on business: “When you seek to punish Mr. Exxon Mobil, you punish the secretary who owns Exxon Mobil stock.”
Having established his bona fides as a mainstream Republican, he then dipped into his father Ron Paul’s kit bag—calling for defense cuts and offering a libertarian attack on homeland security. These were done with an artful lightness of touch his father has never displayed. “You, the individual, are the engine of America’s greatness,” he concluded.
The left can’t seem to figure out whether it wants to call Paul Ryan a “radical” or a “coward,”; an Ayn Rand disciple or a religious fanatic. So it’s not a surprise that the Obama campaign’s attempts to define Ryan haven’t stuck. The Fix flags a WaPo-Pew Research poll that found Americans have a hard time finding negative things to say about him:
A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll asked Americans to say what one word comes to mind when they think about the GOP vice presidential nominee. And people have a hard time finding negative things to say about him.
None of the top nine words people use to describe Ryan are are negative, and six of the nine are positive (“intelligent,” “good,” “energetic,” “honest,” etc.).
Not until you get to the 10th- and 11th-most-cited words do Democrats’ attempts to define Ryan begin to register. That’s the point at which people start describing Ryan as an “idiot” and “extremist.”