Where Romney fell short (CNN)
David Gergen: Where Romney fell short
The real judgments on the success of the GOP convention will come from voters, not from those of us in the peanut gallery. Nevertheless, with the third and final night in the books, it is worth considering the results of his speech, the climactic arc of the third night, and the convention as a whole.
With regard to the speech, it is possible that Romney’s quiet, plain-spoken sketch of his personal journey — especially its invocations of a Norman Rockwell America — will humanize him and draw over women who have soured on President Obama but have worried that Romney is a hard-hearted, rich, elitist, corporate raider who has no compassion for those less fortunate. Relentless negative ads against him in recent weeks have left that impression. Probably the greatest success of this GOP convention is that it revealed a different, far more decent Romney who does care about others.
In that sense, his acceptance address may have been a worthy climax to a three-day effort to portray him in a better light. That could help to narrow the gender gap that is holding back his candidacy.
But from my perspective, as one who is deeply worried about the next few years in America, the speech was a disappointment on substantive and rhetorical grounds. Just the night before, Paul Ryan hammered home the idea that the Romney-Ryan ticket was ready to make tough, bold choices that would unleash a dynamic America. Romney simply wasn’t going there Thursday night: There were no tough choices, no ringing calls for new policies, no details about how we would get there. Instead, he declared — without any supporting evidence — that a Romney presidency would create 12 million jobs in the next four years. Since no president has ever done that, one might have thought that there would be a compelling game plan to get there. Instead, he offered up a brief laundry list of five ideas — many of them what George W. Bush would offer — and left it there. Sorry, but that was neither bold nor tough.
Rhetorically, the speech was solid but not compelling. It had heart but lacked soul. Mario Cuomo famously said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose — this was all prose. Nor was there a clear trumpet — it is not even clear what the lead paragraph would be in press accounts. If Bill Safire were still alive and editing his anthology of great speeches, he would be much more likely to include Ryan’s than Romney’s.
Perhaps voters will have a more positive impression than I had and will flock to Romney in droves. If so, hats off to the Romney team for figuring out today’s political mood far better than those of us who kibitz on the sidelines. But if they called this one wrong, Thursday night will go down as the biggest missed opportunity of the campaign.
As for the convention as a whole, its biggest success may have been to warm up Mitt Romney. From Ann Romney’s moving speech Tuesday night about her husband to the emotionally charged testimonials on Thursday, climaxing in a film and then his own re-telling of his life story, the convention seemingly did well in erasing the impressions created by the barrage of negative advertising he’s sustained. What the convention lacked in compelling plans for the future, it made up for in its humanizing portrait of the party’s nominee.
But in assessing the choreography of the convention, one cannot ignore the bizarre way that the final night of the convention unfolded. For the hour leading into 10 p.m., convention planners put together an inspiring series of personal testimonials from others about Romney — that was strong television. When it came to a close, and when the network broadcasts tuned in, the planners could have shown their film and had Romney appear immediately after. That would have been a home run.
Instead, for inexplicable reasons, the planners at the magical stroke of 10 p.m. went from one of the best hours of the convention (the testimonials) to one of the worst half hours of prime time in recent memory.
Having Clint Eastwood on stage was a terrific idea (and I am a big fan), but who on the Romney team takes responsibility for what then happened? It was sad and embarrassing to watch one of America’s beloved idols in the minutes that followed. People back home had no idea what was happening.
And then came Marco Rubio, who brought the crowd in the hall to its feet, but whose speech — more about him than Romney — really should have been elsewhere in the program.
The net result was that Romney didn’t make it onto the stage until 10:33 or so and without a strong lead-in. We don’t yet know if a lot of viewers had left by then, but either way it was blown time. The one hour allotted by the networks for the acceptance speech is one of the most precious in all of politics. It is the one opportunity a political party and its presidential candidate have to engage in an uninterrupted conversation with the American people. To orchestrate it so badly and then to follow with an acceptance speech that was good but not great was a bizarre way to end things — and may have cost the Romney campaign the major breakout moment it needed from this convention.
David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.Follow him on Twitter.