TAMPA — So I’m sitting at the gate in the Tampa airport, Sunday column filed, and finally have time to put down some quick thoughts about Thursday night’s finale at the RNC.
First, Clint Eastwood’s performance is a good example of why (I presume) he insists that the actors in his movies follow a script. There were some grand moments in there — “You, we, we own this country. … Politicians are employees of ours” being one of them — and the image of President Obama as an empty chair is going to have staying power in this campaign. But his 12-minute bit could have been done in much less time and been even more effective. As rambling and bizarre as Eastwood was at times, I don’t think he hurt Mitt Romney with his performance. He just didn’t help as much as he might have.
Second, there were a few primetime-worthy appearances earlier in the evening that would have done much more to burnish Romney’s public image. The first was a trio of speeches by members of Romney’s church in Massachusetts, talking about their friendship with the Romneys and the ways Mitt Romney went out of his way to help them in times of personal crisis. I won’t go into these too much because Sunday’s column focuses on one of them. But they were extremely moving and shed light on two aspects of him: his faith, and his service to others. Ann Romney said Tuesday night, going off-script for a few moments to emphasize the point, that he doesn’t like to talk about things he does for others. But the stories of that trio went a long way toward demonstrating there’s a lot to tell.
The Olympians’ appearance was also worthy, particularly Derek Parra’s speech. Even better may have been the video about his salvage job at the 2002 Winter Games. If I can find it online, I’ll add a link.
Third, Jeb Bush’s appearance with a teacher and student from Florida was strong. The time devoted to it, taken with Condoleezza Rice’s remarks about education reform and school choice, suggested strongly that those would be high-priority issues in a Romney presidency. Then Romney himself named them in a list of five things he would do to reinvigorate the economy in the short and long terms. If the campaign continues to talk about school choice, it could make for an unexpected but welcome complement to school choice advocates’ charter school campaign in Georgia this fall.
Fourth, Marco Rubio was outstanding, as expected. He spent a great deal of time talking about himself — which some observers have taken as a way to promote himself for 2016 or 2020 — but I don’t think the Romney folks will worry too much about that. That’s because any promotion of Rubio’s story is a promotion of American exceptionalism and the endurance of the American Dream. Indeed, Rubio was just one of several speakers this week who described themselves as first-, second- or third-generation Americans. At a national level, there is an obvious intent among Republicans to change the way their partisans talk about immigration. Which is not to say going soft on illegal immigration, but to make clear that there are a host of welcome, legal immigrants that the GOP intends to celebrate.
Finally, there was Romney himself. Let’s get this out of the way: He wasn’t the best speaker of the week. He might not even have been in the top 5. But that is not what makes him presidential material, and he certainly gave an address worthy of a presidential nominee. It built carefully but surely to a strong finish, and everyone I spoke with came away thinking he had done a perfectly fine job at capping off the week.
Overall, if the GOP’s goal was to explain the message it’s selling to voters clearly and confidently, the week was a success.
– By Kyle Wingfield