Republican National Convention speakers have much at stake

Chris Cillizza
Reporter August 26, 2012

The Republican National Convention convenes this week in Tampa with virtually every GOP heavy hitter (and wannabe heavy hitter) scheduled to address the gathering sometime between Tuesday and Thursday night.

And with 15,000 members of the media and the entire Republican establishment in attendance, addressing the convention-goers is a massive opportunity — for those politicians with their eye on the future — to make a splash (or belly-flop).

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House. View Archive

With those stakes in mind, below are five scheduled speakers who have much at stake in their speeches over the next few days.

Chris Christie : The New Jersey governor has come a long way since the Republican Party gathered to nominate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as its presidential pick. In 2009, Christie was elected governor of the Garden State. Two years later, he was rumored to be making a presidential bid of his own. Now, Christie is the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention, the plummest of plum speaking gigs and a testament to how quickly he has risen in the GOP firmament. Christie has built his national political brand on a sort of take-no-prisoners, in-your-face approach that tends to be more effective in press conferences than in big speeches. It also will be interesting to see how much Christie talks about himself and his approach (he is undoubtedly interested in running for president in 2016 or 2020) and how much time he spends touting Mitt Romney.

Marco Rubio : The most anticipated speech of the convention — and yes, we are including Romney’s acceptance speech in that calculation — will be delivered by the Florida senator. Rubio will be on his home turf and is likely to get a rock-star reception from the crowd no matter how good (or bad) his speech actually is. Rubio has shown flashes of ability before — his 2010 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference was a gem — but this will be a far bigger stage. Rubio’s speech is important not just for him — he is widely seen as a national candidate for the party in 2016 or 2020 — but also for the party. Republicans desperately need to find a way to appeal to the country’s rapidly growing Hispanic community, and Rubio is probably their best chance to do that going forward.

Rand Paul : The Kentucky senator is the heir — literally and figuratively — to the libertarian-tinged Republicanism of his father, Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.). With Ron Paul stepping away from politics later this year — he is retiring from his House seat — Rand Paul’s convention speech will be regarded by many Paul-ites as an official passing of the torch from father to son. The central question in Rand Paul’s speech will be whether he stays on the Romney team’s preferred messages or begins building his own case for 2016/2020. Already there is controversy surrounding the Paul family; Ron Paul told the New York Times that he doesn’t “fully endorse” Romney for president and turned down an opportunity to speak at the convention. Does Rand Paul stay loyal to the presidential nominee or the paterfamilias?

Paul Ryan : The Wisconsin congressman has handled the leap up to serving as the vice presidential nominee with relative ease on the stump. But a speech in front of the entirety of the Republican Party is something different altogether. Ryan’s wonky side is well known — and well loved by conservatives — but the question is whether he can genuinely excite and rally the crowd in Tampa. Remember, too, that Ryan’s audience is far broader than just the convention attendees. For many national viewers, it will be their first glimpse of Ryan, and, as we know, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And keep in mind that Ryan is in his early 40s and that a good-to-great speech cements him as a presidential candidate in his own right in four or eight years.

Susana Martinez : Martinez isn’t a household name in national politics, but if the governor of New Mexico can deliver a strong speech performance, she could well transform herself into one overnight. Martinez is the first Hispanic woman — of either party — to serve as a governor and has the sort of law-and-order background (she was a district attorney before being elected in 2010) that could have real appeal to the Republican Party. Martinez was mentioned early on in chatter about Romney’s running mate but was dismissed because of a lack of experience in both national politics and policy. For those Republicans looking for a new, female face to step to the fore for the GOP heading into 2016 and 2020, Martinez could be the perfect fit — assuming she performs well in her speaking slot at the convention Wednesday night.

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