On Thursday at the Republican National Convention, a multi-day rallying cry that has come to resemble a marathon political infomercial on both sides of the aisle, Mitt Romney officially accepted the GOP nomination and addressed party delegates. No surprise there.
Yet the devil was in the details. In a speech peppered by chants of “USA” and nostalgic references to the Normal Rockwell-esque America Romney supposedly grew up in, the presidential candidate offered an eloquent attempt at raising the stakes for the upcoming election, tapping into voter discontent with Obama while seeking to present a kinder, gentler image of himself.
Whether the speech will resonate with voters has yet to be seen, but it had the effect of firing up party faithful – at least on television. The businessman-turned-politician – estimated to be worth over $200 million – kicked-off his speech by delivering an “I feel your pain” narrative. Clearly trying to connect with voters in the wake of his casting as an unsympathetic robber-baron by the left, he spoke at times as if he, too, knew what it meant to live at the mercy of an economic downturn.
“What could you do,” Romney asked, “except work harder, do with less, try to stay optimistic, hug your kids a little longer? Maybe spend a little more time praying that tomorrow would be a better day?”
Romney also highlighted his reputation as a politician who understands job creation – citing Bain Capital’s role in the creation of office-supplies chain Staples, among other upstarts. Yet he treaded lightly while discussing his character and accomplishments, preferring to present his time in finance and Mormon faith in a positive light – aspects of himself that have long been portrayed negatively by detractors from both parties.
While emphasizing family values and faith, Romney avoided directly addressing hot-button issues such as gay marriage and abortion, merely recognizing the value of marriage and the rights of the unborn. In the wake of the left’s criticisms of a Republican “war on women,” he referenced key women figures in the Republican party. He also bypassed the topic of gun control, no doubt a sensitive issue during a summer that has been marred by the recent memory of several mass shootings. Romney pandered to the Tea Party, though he never mentioned them outright, by promising to chip away at the country’s deficit.
Perhaps a result of the GOP’s emphasis on ousting Obama as opposed to touting Romney, last night’s speech played heavily on voter disappointment with the President after a euphoric 2008 election season. To listen to last night’s speech, one would have thought that most Republicans attending the convention voted for Obama in the last election.
Throughout the speech, he repeatedly attacked Obama’s performance as president, claiming that the country “deserves better,” and suggested that the upcoming election presents a chance for Americans to turn the clocks back on their post-2008 disillusionment. He took a page out of Reagan’s playbook, claiming that neither Jimmy Carter – often a symbol of failure among conservative circles – nor Obama could ask with “satisfaction” whether the American people are "better off than you were four years ago."
“You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president, when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him,” Romney said of Obama, to laugher and applause and whistles.
Interestingly, the disappointment with Obama is one felt by liberals and conservatives alike. However, Romney is unlikely to capture some, if any left wing voters, as his social policies, though more moderate than some Republicans, are comfortably in-step with those of his party’s establishment.
At the same time, Romney did not emphasize social conservatism as heavily as he could have, and left the Tea Party largely out of the speech. Rather than make any bold moves to court voters, last night’s speech came off as a plea urging Americans to hand Obama a vote of no confidence – and, by proxy, elect Romney president.