The Republicans capped off the first day of their convention Tuesday with two made-for-network speakers: Ann Romney, and then Chris Christie. Neither did anything to scare off Republicans; to the contrary, if the first job of the convention is to show the people who are normally inclined to vote for you but have their doubts that the party and the nominee are not scary, then the one-two punch surely met that bar. And that’s not nothing.
What’s more, Tea Party craziness was fully banished from the broadcast network hour, and in fact was basically suppressed all day – mentions of “socialism” were as scarce as mentions of that guy who was president before Barack Obama, or the name of the company where Mitt Romney had all that business success.
Beyond that, however, what struck me in prime time and all day, as it’s struck me all year with the current GOP, is just how little they have to say. Christie’s speech, in particular, was empty platitude after empty platitude. “This generation…” “American century…” “Hard truths…” On and on it went. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with a Big Themes type of keynote speech, but there’s a difference between big themes and clichés.
What was more awkward for the Republicans was that to the extent it had one, Christie’s theme was the importance of respect over love, which directly contradicted Ann Romney’s theme of love. Moreover, the Mitt Romney that his wife began to construct – a can-do turnaround artist who can get America home safely – was nothing like the truth-telling, poll-rejecting, sacrifice-accepting leader that Christie claimed that the United States needs.
I can’t really speculate about how Christie’s trademark New Jersey brashness will come across to voters who had never heard of him before. He delivered the speech reasonably well in my view, although not nearly as well as Ann Romney delivered hers. But while one would expect little substance from a spouse’s speech, which was quite properly dedicated to building up the nominee, it’s just striking how little Christie had to say. Apparently, Republicans are for balanced budgets and against teachers unions…and then a whole bunch of clichés about the Greatest Generation and our grandchildren or something like that.
Will that hurt Mitt Romney in November? I don’t really think so, much. But this just doesn’t strike me at all as a party prepared to govern.