ST. PAUL—John McCain gave about as good a speech as he can give: not great, but surprisingly effective—and definitely good enough.
The speech's best moments came when McCain worked riffs: Repetitions of what he has fought for ("Fight with me! Fight with me!"), who he has fought, and we believe, we believe, we believe.
McCain's best moments involved his describing his time as a POW (somewhat surprising given the extent to which the campaign is cheapening that coin through overuse) and when he ad-libbed a response to one of a couple of protesters who tried to disrupt him early on. "My friends, don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static," he said. He added with an almost-Reaganesque smile that Americans "want us to stop yelling at each other."
But the floor crowd didn't seem to get the protester tactics: They would respond to every yell or shriek with chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"—drowning out the dumb protester, but also drowning out their candidate.
(Side note to the protesters—oh be quiet. You annoyed more people this evening than you persuaded.)
Another protester managed to get a sign in and periodically yelled something about the war. At first he managed to hold people off by leaning out over the edge of his balcony to keep it away from fellow guests' grasp. Then a volunteer in the next section over grabbed the sign and spent a couple of comical minutes trying to tear it up. When he finally managed it the crowd cheered—it's unclear whether the crowd cheered for him or for McCain's applause line.
McCain's worst moment came when he was delivering what was supposed to be a signature line of the speech: "I have that record, and the scars to prove it," he said, pausing and flashing his creepy grin before adding, "Senator Obama does not." Not really the time for the grin.
He got his biggest cheers in the peroration, but he tried to talk over them—no one sitting in my area of the press stands could make out a word of the last section of speech.
He got one of his biggest cheers when he talked about lessening the U.S. dependency on foreign oil, which prompted another round of "Drill, baby, drill."
(Side note to the GOP conventioneers: "Drill, baby, drill!" sounds good in the hall, but it sounds a bit fanatical-scary beamed into living rooms—drilling is a winning issue for the GOP right now, but Americans come to it reluctantly. All else being even, though, they'd prefer to not. Lusty chants of "Drill, baby, drill!" bring to mind the Goths finally let through the gates of Rome.)
And of course we can expect to see another reprise of the McCain Green Screen Challenge on Colbert—that should be good for a laugh.