Mitt Romney’s speech was rushed at the outset, but he did settle down in the second half. Did he make a good case for removing Obama from office, and a case for what he would do as president himself?
1) Romney actually dialed back some of the most flagrant dishonesty we’ve seen from his campaign of late. The attack on Obama for supposedly looting Medicare to pay for Obamacare was muted, and there was no sign of the claim that Obama gutted welfare reform to send welfare checks to undeserving layabouts. Either the Romney camp decided that was too hot a topic for such a big moment, or the criticism of the campaign’s mendacity is having an effect; either way, this strain of attacks on Obama was relatively low key this evening. The Ryan speech created a whole news cycle dedicated to the campaign’s mendacity; this speech avoided some of those pitfalls, perhaps because the Romney campaign worried that his character and integrity were at risk.
2) Romney humanized himself, but the speech had a rushed quality. No one can quite figure out why Clint Eastwood arguing with an empty chair was the first thing that network viewers saw after 10 p.m., but the result was that the first half of the speech, which was designed to showcase a softer side of Romney, was rushed and jumbled. He came across as a nice, well meaning guy as he told good anecdotes about his parents, wife and kids, but it’s hard to know whether he took any steps towards creating the sort of bond with skeptical voters the political pros keep telling us he needs to create. And when he talked about his business background, he muddled through his argument rather than staking out any big ideas about his vision of the American economy; it was hard to understand the point of his claim that the Obama campaign had shopped at Staples (a Bain creation).
3) Romney did hit his stride when attacking Obama. The first half of Romney’s speech was all about softening his image, but when he turned to Obama, the speech veered into attacking a version of the president that at times placed too heavy an emphasis on revving up the base. He was comfortable in this stretch of the speech. He claimed Obama apologized for America, said he’s thrown Israel under the bus, attacked him for promising to slow the rise of the oceans and said Obama has demeaned success (all perennial crowd pleasers on the right). And Romney also hit Obama for failing to deliver “hope and change.” But Romney simultaneously attacked Obama in ways geared toward independents, when he made the nod to the historic nature of his presidency while also claiming, more in sorrow than in anger, that we had shown Obama patience but that he’d let the country down.
There was almost nothing in the way of what Romney would do differently that we haven’t heard before; he rehashed the same bullet points that economists have said would not necessarily do anything to fix the short term crisis.
Romney seemed to be trying to speak to different audiences at once. The sections about Obama veered between red-meat stuff designed to thrill the base and more gentle criticism designed to signal to independents that Republicans had been magnanimous about the Obama presidency but that he’d failed. (Independents were also the target of his personal anecdotes and his efforts to present his business background in accessible terms.) What’s unclear is whether he made a strong enough affirmative case for himself as president or spelled out what people could really expect if he were offered the job.
UPDATE: This post has been edited for clarity and to add a number of new ideas.