What They're Saying About Mitt Romney's Big Speech

The Atlantic
What They're Saying About Mitt Romney's Big Speech
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What They're Saying About Mitt Romney's Big Speech

Mitt Romney had to do several things in his Republican National Convention speech: make women like him, make working-class people like him, convince people who voted for President Obama in 2008 that it's okay to vote against him now, explain why Bain Capital is not scary, and give people some idea of how awesome his presidency would be. Did he do it?

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Reviews are mixed.

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It's true, he is a human. The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis:

The testimonials and personal stories, coupled with this terrific bio video, helped introduce Romney — humanize him, really — in a way that a speech by a polished politician could not. We already know Romney is competent, but this emotional connection was the missing ingredient lacking in his quest for the presidency. My guess is Thursday night went a long way toward completing the mission. 

But not a likable human. The New Republic's Noam Scheiber writes that because of the likability gap between Obama and Romney, there was pressure to chance how people see him personally:

I counted four feints in the direction of image-softening. The first was to show empathy for the economically marginal. (“[W]hen you lost that job that paid $22.50 an hour with benefits, you took two jobs at 9 bucks an hour and fewer benefits.”) The second was to fill in family back-story. (“When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way.”) The third was to describe the influence of his church on his character. (“We had remarkably vibrant and diverse congregants from all walks of life and many who were new to America.”) And the fourth was about Bain Capital’s role in the economy. (“Some of the companies we helped start are names you know. An office supply company called Staples … The Sports Authority … an early childhood learning center called Bright Horizons.”)

All of these riffs were nicely delivered—in fact, I don’t think I’ve seen a better Romney delivery this campaign. But they all suffered from the same basic flaw: Though they succeeded in showing a bit of humanity, they never connected that humanity to what he might do as president. 

We were not like "whoah." Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall:

He’s the underdog and he’s the guy who needs to have a galvanizing introduction to the general public. In those terms, it was a missed opportunity. A pretty big one.

Breaking up with Obama is hard to do. The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg:

Most challengers face the relatively clinical task of persuading voters to fire the incumbent. Mr. Romney faces the more fraught mission of persuading them to break up with the incumbent...

But leading these voters — many of them women — to that conclusion takes finesse and delicacy, Republican strategists say. The sort of visceral attacks that conservative talk show hosts are calling for risk sending them into a defense posture on behalf of Mr. Obama and, more to the point, of their own decisions four years ago.

Rather, strategists say, it requires providing a path that gives them permission to make a break. 

He finally told the Bain story. The National Review's Robert Costa:

Romney directly took on the depiction of his career as a shadowy endeavor. He did not want to run away from his past; he wanted to use his 40-minute turn on the national stage, in front of millions watching on television, to share a personal perspective...

As he spoke about that period in his life, Romney narrated his ascent, and he took care to connect himself to small-business owners, not just the titans of Wall Street who invested in his enterprise.

For the first time, the delivery was better than the speech on paper. The Atlantic's Molly Ball:

The same went for Romney's description of Bain, which he managed, for the first time, to convincingly portray as a plucky little firm made good, and which he tied to the convention's No. 1 theme, the accusation that the president disdains the private sector.

Not bad, but he was upstaged. The New Yorker's John Cassidy:

For somebody like Romney, who is challenging an incumbent with pretty low approval ratings, they are about trying to persuade the country that you are an able and honest fellow who wouldn’t be overawed by the Presidency. With the aid of some plausible-sounding character witnesses and some typically slick G.O.P. infomercials, Romney did what he had to do. Unfortunately for him, the only thing that most people will remember about it is the jarring picture of a frail-looking American screen legend, his hair askew, standing and talking in a halting voice to an empty chair.

He was good, but he needed to be better. Politico's Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris offer meta-criticism under the headline "The filter: How the media will measure Mitt Romney":

The argument, whether or not people find it compelling, was clear and direct: Obama is a president of big promises and little achievement. Romney said his personal history shows him as a no-nonsense man of results...

It is Romney, not Obama, who needs to somehow change the dynamic in some major way, and it is hard to see how Thursday's speech did this. There was no special moment that demands to be replayed by the media, or has much chance to go viral on YouTube.

No policy details at all. Bloomberg's Josh Barro:

Romney is shallow and incoherent on policy for strategic reasons. He attacks from whichever direction is likely to be effective -- even if that means getting to the president’s left, as on Medicare -- and keeps the focus on Obama’s failures. Getting too specific might lead people to focus on Romney instead.

That strategy might be enough to win the election. But it does not help the public figure out how Romney would run the country.

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