Now that I've had some time to process the first day of the Republican National Convention, a few thoughts.
1) It's genuinely weird for a whole day to be based around "You didn't build that." But more than it's weird, it's small. It would be like Democrats dedicating a whole day of their convention to "I like to fire people" or "I don't care about the very poor." Conventions are supposed to make political parties big. Day one of the Republican National Convention made the Republicans look petty.
2) It's also dishonest. My colleague Glenn Kessler handed the Republican convention's use of the line four pinocchios. Then there were the repeated uses of the discredited welfare attack. There was Romney pollster Joe Newhouse's comment: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers" -- or, you know, facts. This is starting to feel like more than politics as usual. It's starting to feel like a disregard for the truth that actually matters. As Jon Chait writes in a post that deserves to be quoted at length:
One disturbing hallmark of the previous Republican presidential administration was the willingness of the president and his allies to rely utterly on the version of truth that circulated within the closed confines of the right-wing subculture. The meta-message of the Bush administration for its critics was: We don’t care what you think. What climate scientists or budget crunchers or intelligence experts said didn’t matter. The Republicans had their own people who assured them that carbon emissions weren’t necessarily warming the planet and tax cuts wouldn’t lead to deficits, and these truths would reverberate on Fox News and other friendly media. In that mental state, a Republican can confidently say or do anything, and — as long as he stays true to conservative dogma — he will be hailed as virtuous and true by the only parties whose standing matters to him.
One hope for a potential Romney administration is that Romney, and his appointees, would feel embarrassment at this method. Romney, unlike Bush, is not a product of deep Red America. Perhaps he and his staff would like to be held in high regard by educated people who get their information from news sources not operating under Republican message discipline.
The development of his campaign strongly suggests otherwise. Romney and his campaign feel perfectly cozy inside the confines of the right-wing information cocoon, where fealty to party doctrine is the only standard for which they will ever be held accountable.
3) There was a lot of political talent on display. Scott Walker, Kelly Ayotte, Chris Christie, and a number of other relative newcomers to the national stage performed admirably under the klieg lights.
4) But there wasn't a lot of planning on display. There was no coherent argument for Mitt Romney. There was no coherence at all, in fact. Ann Romney came out and said, "Tonight I want to talk to you about love." Christie came out right after her and said, "I believe we have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved." When your two prime-time speakers can't agree as to the convention's position on love, you've got problems.
5) All that said, day one is meaningless. A strong day two will completely erase any memory of a weak day one. But, in the end, the only day that will really matter for this election is day three. Mitt Romney is going to have to make the case for Mitt Romney.