By Nick DAngelo
In 2008, the Republican Party suffered a convention almost as bad as their campaign strategy. Losing some of their best speakers to emergency planning in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, dealing with technical issues on a screen almost too large to function and competing against the energy built by Democrats a week earlier in Denver, 2008 was a bad year for Republican convention enthusiasts.
The 2012 convention was different. Despite some speeches that fell flat, the convention was energetic, there was hype, and most importantly, it helped our party’s new standard-bearer. While every major address was critical of President Obama, Republicans focused on the economy. Unlike the Democratic Convention a week later, social issues played no distracting role, showing a campaign that is on message and perhaps even separate from the growingly partisan far-right.
Several speakers were disappointing, falling well below heightened expectations. Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, long the darling of Republican heavyweights (pun intended), was supposed to lay the groundwork for his own presidential ambitions, but he made that a little too obvious. Giving a safe speech full of self-glorification, Christie made only minor mentions of the Republican nominee. It was a massive belly flop.
Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio gave similar speeches, but still enlivened the base. Despite Rubio’s slip that we should choose “more government instead of more freedom,” the speech was generally celebrated. Similarly, while Ryan has been criticized for being too liberal with his facts, he played attack dog for the campaign and delivered powerful one-liners.
The setbacks were dramatically overshadowed.
During her inaugural address to a national audience, Ann Romney earned instant admiration. Described as a speech that “connected” with mainstream America in “powerhouse fashion,” Mrs. Romney cast her husband as loving, honest, and trustworthy, an image desperately needed by the campaign to juxtapose against that of rigid corporate CEO. Exiting the stage to “My Girl” by the Temptations, Mrs. Romney successfully “lifted the Party from rancor,” as The Atlantic described it.
In his own way, Governor Romney gave one of his best performances in his six years of running for president. Combining elements of both Gov. Christie’s and his wife’s speeches, Romney portrayed himself as a pro-growth businessman with a healthy family life.
But the most important and most celebrated address of the four days in Tampa was not the newly minted nominee’s. It was that of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Perhaps the only member of the Bush administration not tainted by a negative reputation, Rice has become an intellect of the party, performing the best of any potential candidate in laying a foundation for a future presidential campaign. Without teleprompters, Rice gave a four-page speech from her own notes, which was dubbed “the most presidential” of the convention. Statesmanlike and steady, Reagan speechwriter David Gergen called it “a serious speech about big things.”
With an economy in disarray, stagnant unemployment and rising debt, Republicans should be excited. After all, the best defense the Democratic Convention’s strongest speaker could give was that “no president could fix it in one term.” The Republican National Convention proved to be enthusiastic and inspirational, stirring a base that will be needed to assure a victory in November.