Mitt Romney’s speech Thursday, as I think Nate Silver tweeted halfway through, was a generic Republican speech — perfect for the generic Republican candidate he’s been since Day One of his second White House run.
Everything in it was perfunctory: the biographical section (which was weirdly interrupted by a digression into Neil Armstrong and the space race and by a call-out to every elected Republican woman they could scrape up — the whole thing seemed to have a case of attention deficit disorder); the five-point economic program; the foreign policy section; the stirring rhetoric at the end; and, certainly, the delivery.
No, that’s not an entirely bad thing. If there was a great moment in it, I sure didn’t hear it; several nice lines, but none that resonated. Perhaps the only memorable thing at all was a nice story about his parents’ romance, but it was surely no match for, say, the story of Chelsea Clinton falling off the bed when she unlearned gravity. Romney’s life story, as he told it, was appealing enough — striking off on his own rather than following in his father’s footsteps, a story that was a dead ringer for George Herbert Walker Bush’s life story except for the war heroism and the real adventurism in Bush’s move to Texas. But, again, that’s okay.
The theme of this convention wasn’t to sell the American people on Mitt Romney, much less his rarely-mentioned plans for public policy. No, even during the parade of testimonials to Romney that took up much of today’s proceedings, Romney himself was only occasionally the focus — the Olympic athletes did an excellent job of selling patriotism, but only sometimes appeared to remember that the point was to humanize Romney.
The theme, instead, was to appeal to those who might vote for Republicans but had one of two hesitations: either that they really like Barack Obama and had warm feelings for the 2008 campaign; or that they would vote Republican but were fed up with the parade of failures and crazies, from George W. Bush to some of the wackier Tea Party candidates, who have been the faces of the party for the last decade. For the former, frequent reminders of 2008 accompanied by a more-in-sorrow-than-anger regret that Obama just didn’t work out. For the latter, a parade of normal people, mostly talking about how they or their parents or their grandparents had moved up from nothing to make it in America.
Both of those themes showed up in Romney’s speech tonight, and while he’s not capable of really making them soar — and, again, the structure of the thing failed to really bring it out very well anyway — they were probably good enough. Not that it means that Romney will necessarily win, but it does probably mean that he will get what he could coming out of the convention, moving a bit closer to achieving whatever the fundamentals of the contest would predict.
A generic speech and a generic convention for a generic Republican candidate.