Well, bravo to Mitt Romney for entering the lion’s den, getting briefly hooted down by a hostile crowd, and keeping your composure.
When Romney announced Wednesday to the NAACP convention his intention to “eliminate every non-essential, expensive program that I can find — and that includes Obamacare,” the crowd lustily booed, a media narrative was firmly established, and Republicans got exactly what they wanted.
Immediately after the completion of Romney’s speech, CNN replayed two moments in which the crowd jeered him. (His claim that it was his candidacy that would most benefit the “African American community” was also met with derision.) It then brought in Democratic strategist Donna Brazile to comment on the crowd’s reaction. She dismissed those who might criticize the booing because the audience was reacting to that “intolerant group of Americans” who oppose Obamacare.
The pundit postmortems have focused on these few moments, of course, and wondered whether the inclusion of the Obamacare line — guaranteed to aggravate the audience — was a deliberate provocation.
As everyone recognizes, a Romney speech to the NAACP will have almost zero impact on the number of African Americans who cast ballots against President Obama, but that wasn’t the point. This seemed to be an appeal to independent white voters, the Romney camp underscoring their man’s willingness to reach across the aisle and, by implication, to show that he isn’t a zealous tea partyer interested in expanding the partisan divide.
Indeed, Romney went for points of mutual agreement and issues that disproportionately impact the black community, like the significant increase in African American unemployment, the importance of school choice, his opposition to gay marriage and the scourge of teenage pregnancy, while also refusing to pander on this issue of health care. Very calculated, very well played.
Like so many others, I watched the speech on television and followed it on Twitter, which provides a wonderful insight into viewers’ spontaneous reactions, like a funnier and more informed version of those Frank Luntz “dial” focus groups. Here are a few that caught my attention:
British writer Tim Stanley: “Mitt's problem: this is a good speech, but his style never adapts to suit the situation. He could be speaking at a tractor factory.” A fair point, but Mitt isn’t a man of any discernible style, which, after four years of a supposedly “cool” president, might actually work to his advantage.
CBS News’s Mark Knoller: “President Obama last spoke to NAACP Convention on occasion of its 100th anniversary, July 16, 2009 in NYC.” And this is a point amplified by conservatives on Twitter, many of whom are also wondering when President Obama will speak to, say, the Club for Growth.
Jim Acosta, CNN’s national political correspondent, tweeted four times during the speech. Three were about booing: “Correct me if I'm wrong Romney ramblers but I've not heard that kind of sustained booing for Romney in this campaign.” Was Acosta aware that the speech was being held at an NAACP convention?
MSNBC’s Ed Schultz: “NAACP crowd boos Mitt Romney when he proposes repealing ‘Obamacare’ ... Ugly moment for the candidate.” Or a brilliant moment, considering his recovery was impressive and it demonstrated a willingness to speak in front of a deeply hostile audience.
After the speech, conservative S.E. Cupp of MSNBC quoted Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.): “Cleaver just said Romney should not have criticized Obama in front of black audience.”
And from National Review’s Jim Geraghty: “I have no idea how this is playing in the room, but this is a good, solid speech articulating conservative principles. One of Romney's best.”