Though Convention Humanized Romney, It Lacked Substance
Tampa an overall success, but if the GOP was looking for a winning message, it didn't build it
August 31, 2012
Republicans succeeded in producing a convention that will net positive results for Mitt Romney. They provided a much-needed injection of humanity into his campaign, pumped some enthusiasm into an otherwise indifferent base, and drew attention to some of the more positive aspects of the party's agenda. Ann Romney brought a rare gravity of compassion to the arena, and Paul Ryan glowed his special shine. We may very well be seeing the beginnings of a future president. But we can't overstate the influence this convention will have on improving Romney's chances for success. He still has a very tough road ahead, especially in that we've yet to see the president's production in action next week in Charlotte. He could easily take several of the lemons bouncing around with those white, star-covered balloons last night and turn them into lemonade.
The most glaring problem of proceedings was its theme "We Built It." In principle, it could have worked. The American way is built on the idea that that we the people own the power to create success. But "We Built It" is a slogan derived from an Obama speech taken out of context. Misrepresentation is a key part of presidential campaigns going all the way back to the founding of the Republic, and it's not it's going to go away anytime soon. But this misrepresentation shouldn't have been central to the Republicans' most important political event of the season. "We Built It" works for stump speeches and super PAC ads, but not for a nationally televised event that seeks to win the trust and affection of a large swath of voters.
Conventions should be about inspiration and innovation. Romney would have been much better off forcing his team to come up with a message that embarked from the status quo; that clearly differentiated him from president. A theme that rested on something bigger and truthful would have gone a long way in boosting the GOP's credibility. Voters may not necessarily be following the daily ups and downs of this cycle, or understand all nuances of policy proposals, but they do know when they're being had. We all now have a better sense of Mitt Romney's warmth, but it came at the expense of some of his integrity.
Herein lies the rub of a modern election campaign. Campaigners default so quickly to what they perceive as easy ways to win votes, they forget that the truth of the message is one of the most crucial determinants of victory. Our political elite has placed such a focus on propaganda this season that we simply lack the requisite information to cast an informed vote in November. Not to mention, most voters still have no idea how Romney or the president would deal with their two most important concerns: the economy and the budget deficit. Indeed, we have all the inconsequential details on what the candidates think about abortion and Medicare reform, but neither has anything to do with improving the common good over the next four years.
I give the Republicans a grade of B for this convention. They gave voters something to think about, made Romney more likable, offered us a glimpse into the inspirational character of Ann Romney. But Elephants can do much better. They must offer a grander, more compelling, and credible message that demonstrates their commitment to the common good. Anything else just comes across as last season's fashions on sale at the local TJ Maxx.