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 Post reports that Romney is taking the task as seriously as expected:
So it is that as Romney prepared to deliver the most important speech of his political career Thursday night at the Republican National Convention, he spent months reading past nominating and inaugural speeches (including President Obama’s) and biographies. By the middle of last week, as the guts of the speech were coming together, he asserted, in a conversation with an associate, “I still have to write it.” On Friday, Romney told talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, “Mine is still a work in progress, kind of early stage.”
Over the weekend, Romney took two days off the campaign trail to finish his drafts and rehearse with teleprompters at his New Hampshire getaway home. When reporters asked him after one rehearsal for a sneak peak of his speech, Romney previewed just five words: “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.” He was laughing, but advisers said the rest was in fact still subject to change.
On Wednesday, advisers were chiming in on this line or that line. One of them said that Romney will keep tinkering until just before he steps onto the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired convention stage shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday – because, well, “he just likes to tinker.”
Yet Romney’s speech tonight, more perhaps than is usual for such addresses, is a genuinely fascinating moment in American politics. Romney’s journey from governor of Massachusetts to presidential contender to presidential nominee was a rollercoaster. If you want to understand just how differently Romney was perceived by the Republican electorate in 2008, watch his (energetic, but substandard) convention address from four years ago. He gets a full minute standing ovation from the crowd before he utters a word.
And as I have written before, watching Romney’s address to CPAC in 2008 is like stepping into an alternate universe. He is the free market hero they’ve been waiting for who, to their vivid disappointment, could not wrest the nomination from the campaign-finance regulator McCain. Yet after Obamacare passed, the original suspicion with which the conservative movement viewed Romney for his previous stance on abortion returned, ironically at the moment the country seemed desperate for an economic guru.
But Romney kept a cool head throughout, and earned the nomination—he outraised, outdebated, and finally outran his rivals. Romney has always struggled when he has tried to be what he thought the conservative movement wanted him to be, rather than trying to show the party’s base they should want him as-is. For good or ill, those days are behind him now. Tonight he’ll deliver a speech he’s thought about for at least five years, despite being written off and counted out numerous times throughout. For a man of uncommon equanimity, and in the era of scripted and predictable conventions, that’s high drama.