Of all the issues that will be discussed and on display in Tampa, none are more important than the tone and the human face the Republicans and Mitt Romney will display over the next few days.
Romney comes to his coronation after an unflattering year. The Republican primaries were ugly hand-to-hand combat. President Obama acted like a tag-team wrestler with Rick Santorum. When Santorum's challenge to Romney folded, the president stepped in and pounded Romney with ads in the spring and summer. The Romney campaign and the broader GOP provided some distractions of our own that diminished Romney's standing or at least raised doubts in the minds of many voters, especially women. But now Romney has a stage that he has built to feature himself, his priorities and his narrative about both himself and the race.
I think it is underappreciated that the Romney persona can effectively contrast with Obama. Obama gets credit for possessing great charm. I think this is part of the Obama myth that will be exposed early in the fall campaign. Where has any Obama charm been on display during his presidency? The president has a famously dysfunctional relationship with former House speaker Nancy Pelosi, and he and the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid can't collaborate among Democrats to even pass a budget in the Senate. There is no instance in foreign affairs where Obama has cultivated a personal relationship that has made him more effective. He is insulted by the Chinese and Russians, and he can't hide his contempt for the leadership of Israel, while no Arab leader follows his lead.
Why should this surprise us? Obama was never recognized as a leader among his peers and he had never built or led a team. In 2008 people saw what they wanted to see. What was cool then has become smug. There is no talk from the president about inspiration or hope. His campaign is all negative, it is snide toward Romney, and it is meant to stoke fears among voters. The word Obama has settled on to describe Romney is "extreme," and his views are "extremist."
Yet the Romney and company that will be on display in Tampa will be earnest, enthusiastic, accomplished problem-solvers. From Gov. Chris Christie to Condi Rice, to Romney himself, there couldn't be a better contrast with the dour, condescending Obama. Tomorrow's theme of "We Built It" pays legitimate tribute to American accomplishments and reminds everyone of the president's infamous contempt for individual success.
Establishing a contrast in styles, attitude and authentic leadership experience is an important theme that must be produced in Tampa and then reinforced throughout the course of the campaign. Obama can't win on stoking fears and shouting that Romney is an extremist if people see for themselves that Romney is a good-natured, well-rounded, happy leader.