As you might imagine, the Republican National Convention is not my natural habitat. Nevertheless, the GOP jamboree in Tampa marks my third — and my sixth convention overall. What struck me from Day One and continued through the balloon drop last night was the palpable lack of enthusiasm. Yes, they roared for their nominee Mitt Romney. But there seemed to be no passion behind the applause. At least, not for the top of the presidential ticket.
What enthusiasm there was belonged to the roster of political talent that walked the stage at the Tampa Bay Times Forum over the last four days. Mia Love, Chris Christie, Condoleezza Rice, Susana Martinez, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio and, of course, Paul Ryan, the vice presidential nominee. And as I noted on the p-Op quiz, most of these folks made the most of their national platform.
I didn’t agree with much or even most of what they said. But there was no denying their star power and appeal to the Republican base. They had personality. They had bite. They had convictions. They deserved the enthusiasm they ginned up.Whatever enthusiasm Romney was able to generate last night was short-lived.
His speech was moving in some places. The bits about his father and about his wife, Ann, revealed a man fueled by family. But the address was maddening in other places. His five-step plan for creating 12 million jobs was noticeably light on policy specifics or even when the 12 millionth job might appear. End of the first term? Perhaps 2030?
Part of the problem was how the final night of the convention was configured. Having a wizened Hollywood legend address the convention might have seemed like a good idea to the Romney campaign. But Clint Eastwood’s conversation with an empty chair was an embarrassment. It was a bizarre disaster that diminished the crescendo building for the nominee’s arrival.
A surefire way to have the night end on a spectacular note would have been to nix Eastwood and bring Rubio out for his big speech. Have him declare his support for Romney, which would have served as an introduction to the biographical video of the candidate. The roof would have been blown off the Forum if Romney had emerged from behind the screens on stage at the video’s conclusion. Instead, while he spoke, Twitter and other social media were ablaze with hilarity over Eastwood’s antics.
Romney gave a speech that seemed to work with the delegates and was met with several roars of approval, but he couldn’t maintain his hold on them. This revealed itself during the balloon drop. The balloons should have marked the most festive part of the big night, especially with little Romneys and Ryans skittering about the stage chasing them.
Instead, the exercise had all the feel of a restrained celebration one might endure for a coworker or family member we tolerate and respect rather than admire and love. What usually happens at those occasions happened last night. Folks high-tailed it out of the Forum at the first opportunity when it wouldn’t appear rude.