It would be easy to step away from watching the first day of the Republican National Convention convinced that they wasted a day. Not in the sense that they wasted a day they could have used to make a substantive, factual argument against President Obama’s re-election. They wasted a day to make a case for why their guy should get the gig.
A speech doesn’t have to be complicated. Watching folks like South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and very recent GOP convert Artur Davis fumble their way through speeches full of sound and fury made me think of Cyrus’ big address to the collected gangs at the start of the 1979 film classic “The Warriors.” It’s quick, powerful, and effective: here we have all of New York’s gangs, gathered peacefully together; we outnumber the police 3-to-1, do the math; “CAN YOU DIG IT???” Pretty simple.
Selling the challenger you just nominated to be your presidential candidate should be just as easy, no matter the party: the previous guy sucked; here are the problems he caused or made worse; here’s our guy; here’s how he can fix them. Can you dig it, America?
But just like all it took was one Judas to foil Cyrus’ big plan of action, you had one guy at the RNC last night looking out only for himself, giving a speech with all the charm of three pop bottles being clinked together.
The first words I heard after Chris Christie finished speaking last night came from our own Rachel Maddow, who called the bombastic keynote address given by the New Jersey governor “one of the most remarkable acts of political selfishness I have ever seen on a stage this big.” True enough, Chris Christie showed America that he is quite proud of Chris Christie, and what Chris Christie has done in Chris Christie’s home state of New Jersey. (Did you know that’s where he’s from? Are you sure you know? Because if it wasn’t clear enough, Chris Christie would be happy to put his fake-Sopranos act on for you again, pretty much whenever he’s in public.)
I tweeted after the speech that I felt Christie was trying to pull off what then Illinois State Senator Barack Obama did in 2004, when in the Democratic convention’s keynote, the future President introduced himself to the nation as the obvious heir apparent in a year when the party’s nominee was himself less than inspiring. With his whole “respect over love” bully’s credo and his shameless sales job of his own record, Christie missed it by a mile, as Steve Benen noted:
Christie badly missed the point of Obama’s speech – it wasn’t about him, specifically, but rather Obama’s salute to America’s exceptional qualities. Last night, the governor wanted to argue that he too has lived an improbable his American journey, not because of the extraordinary opportunities the nation offers, but because he’s a Republican in a Democratic state.
Either way you look at it, Christie saw this as his moment in the sun, not Mitt Romney’s. It was a bad speech. So was Ann Romney’s.
(Not as bad as the one Mrs. Romney gave today at a Hispanic luncheon where she skimmed over the DREAM Act and told Puerto Ricans that “you people really know how to party,” but still.)
The better half of the Republican presidential nominee (yes, it’s official now) seemed nervous, but I can hardly find her at fault for that. Any political spouse deserves credit for even getting the words out. But aside from the ad nauseum anecdote of how she and Governor Romney met, her words were incredibly problematic. After using her first sentence to say, “I want to talk to you tonight not about politics and not about party,” she went on to put repeat nonsense about Romney being attacked for his success.
And seriously, folks: enough with the Romney effort to make it sound like they struggled as a young couple. Her having multiple sclerois is a struggle, not living in a basement apartment with rent paid by stock options. (Funny, considering that that may not have been the last time they lived in a basement). Mrs. Romney barely mentioned her fight with MS, instead opting for a speech that may have intended to warm up a husband largely seen as a stuffy, distant, awkward wealthy guy, and instead sounded like someone putting in a good word for a candidate who had a bad interview. Which, in a manner of speaking, Romney has had up to this point with the American people. The convention is the time to fix that.
In concluding her write-up of Mrs. Romney’s address, Salon’s Irin Carmon laid out exactly why her speech failed. Emphasis mine:
This is always the strange job of a first lady, ultimately defined by marrying the man of the hour and stuck going to war with the biography you have. Michelle Obama’s speech in 2008 was not particularly groundbreaking, but she could offer a story of genuine mobility and a happy ending that did not simply boil down to marrying a prince.
But the gig is stranger still when you have the most traditional of would-be first ladies in a year of struggles over women’s roles, preceded by every woman of color the RNC could rustle up. Strangest of all, in fact, when you’re the only person in the entire room making a genuine and enthusiastic case for the presidential nominee.
And at the end of Ann Romney’s and several other (more divisive) speeches on the first day of the Republican National Convention, why is it that I feel that the thing I learned about Mitt Romney is that he was a gentleman on the night he met his wife at a dance, escorting her home safely? While that’s a lovely story, how does that make even an anecdotal case for Romney to replace Barack Obama as President?
This hits upon a larger question: if Romney’s wife can’t make a good case for him and the convention’s keynote speaker doesn’t even bother to, can there be an effective case made for Romney at all? We’ll see what tonight’s speakers, including running mate Paul Ryan, can do. (Or will do.)
See Melissa’s take on Ann Romney’s speech below, on “The Cycle.” Be sure to tune in this evening to msnbc to see Melissa contributing to the special coverage of Day 2 of the Republican National Convention.