At the intersection of a good theme and a bad candidate

Updated
 

We talked the other day about the Romney-Ryan ticket lacking a thematic rationale. There’s no “compassionate conservative” or “audacity of hope”; there’s just a string of dishonest attacks and assurances that details will come after the election.

But it’s worth noting that at the Republican National Convention this week, a thematic rationale – a pretty good one, actually – started to come together. As Ezra Klein explained, however, the theme doesn’t work because Mitt Romney doesn’t believe it.

The first two nights of the Republican National Convention ended with stirring, rousing speeches. They just weren’t stirring, rousing speeches that made much sense as endorsements of Mitt Romney.

Chris Christie and Paul Ryan hit the same themes. We have hard choices facing us. We need leaders who won’t flinch before those choices. Leaders who won’t be deterred by the polls. Leaders who won’t compromise their principles. Leaders who won’t duck the tough issues. Leaders who won’t hide the hard truths.

That description arguably works for Christie and Ryan. That’s their brand, even if it’s selectively applied. But whether you love Romney or you hate him, do these lines really sound like a description of him?

There’s nothing especially wrong with the pitch itself. Vote Romney/Ryan, the argument goes, and you’ll elect Republican leaders who aren’t afraid to tell people what they don’t want to hear. They’ll do what’s right, regardless of what’s popular. They’ll confront politically perilous decisions, and refuse to back down. They’ll earn your respect, not your love. In theory, this is a perfectly sound rationale for a presidential campaign.

It’s just not Mitt Romney’s campaign. And I don’t just mean that there’s an important disconnect between “hard truths” and a guy who lies incessantly; I mean the Republican candidate appears instinctively uncomfortable with the underlying point.

We’re talking about a campaign that recently said they could provide voters with specific policy details, but to do so would be politically “suicidal.” It’s why they won’t explain how they’ll pay for their tax cuts. Or what they intend to do with the undocumented immigrants already living in the United States. Or how they’ll help uninsured Americans after they destroy the Affordable Care Act. Or which tax loopholes he’d close. Or what their policy for Afghanistan is.

What about the capacity to make tough choices? Romney is promising Americans he can balance the budget, cut taxes by trillions of dollars, increase defense spending, and increase entitlement spending – but he won’t tell us how until after we’ve voted for him.

It’s almost as if Ryan, Christie, and others are disappointed that Romney’s their nominee, so they’re pretending he’s someone he’s not.

Mitt Romney

At the intersection of a good theme and a bad candidate

Updated