The Republican National Convention wrapped up last night, and like a certain Clint Eastwood movie, parts of it were good, parts of it were bad, and parts of it were, well…not exactly ugly, but missing altogether. Here’s a look at what was good, what was bad, and what was absent from the RNC.
The Republicans did a great job reaching out to female voters. They went into this convention facing a major image problem with women. The Democrats have framed GOP policy as a “war on women” all summer. After Todd Akin (House member and Senate candidate from Missouri) made his infamous “legitimate rape” comments last week, the GOP had a particularly steep hill to climb in assuring voters that it is not the party of misogyny.
On this front, I found the convention effective. While they obviously did not pivot from their stand on abortion, the speakers and speeches were able to deflect attention from the more extreme voices and positions in the party. Rick Santorum, perhaps the most high-profile defender of the pro-life position, did not even say the word “abortion” in his speech, though he did pledge to care for all children, both “born and unborn.”
Even more importantly, the Republicans were able to highlight some talented young female leaders in the party, including Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico and Nicki Haley, the governor of South Carolina. Condi Rice made a forceful case for Romney’s foreign policy.
Perhaps most unexpected and well-received, though, was the young mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, Mia Love, who is also running for a House seat this year. Her personal narrative of self-reliant parents who emigrated from Haiti brought the crowd to its feet.
The most appealing woman of all was Ann Romney. She is a lovely, charismatic speaker who was able to connect with women about mothering and marriage. Her speech sought to assure Americans that her husband is a trustworthy, warm, empathetic and capable leader who will work hard on behalf of the American people. Regardless of whether you like or agree with Mitt Romney, it is difficult not to appreciate his better half.
Despite the fact that the Republican nominee has been running for president for the past 5 or 6 years, Americans still generally did not have a favorable impression of Mitt Romney going into the convention. His notoriously stiff personality, lack of perceived warmth and enormous wealth — coupled with the barrage of attack ads put out by his opponents during the long primary season and also by the Obama campaign — made it difficult for most voters to see him as someone who understood their problems. This convention was in large part an effort to “humanize” Mitt Romney and highlight his family and personal history in a new way for the undecided voters who might just now be tuning into the campaign.
Only time will tell over the next few days whether or not Romney was able to improve his “likeability” scores in the polls, but it won’t be for lack of a good effort. Despite the fact that several of the speakers talked more about themselves than their nominee (Chris Christie being the guiltiest on this front), on the whole the convention presented some new material about Romney and his family that I bet worked well. The video montage of the Romney family growing up was excellent, showing a regular “dad” and a houseful of kids. (Unfortunately this was succeeded by Clint Eastwood’s unmitigated disaster; more on that later.)
A parade of character witnesses from his church spoke highly of Romney’s charity, character and compassion. The biggest mistake the campaign made was not putting these people on in prime-time, as the efficacy of their message was likely lost on the undecided voters, who were not tuned into the proceedings early in the evening.
Romney’s acceptance speech met the (admittedly low) standard that the commentariat had set for it: he seemed genuine. To me, the most interesting aspect of the speech was his focus on women. The story of his mom running for Senate and his initiative to promote women while working at Bain were both powerful anecdotes in the effort to counter the “sexist” reputation of the GOP.