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.
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