Well four days...excuse me Hurricane Issac, three days of free media and and speechifying are behind us and the 2012 Republican Convention is a wrap. It is important to bear in mind that national party conventions are becoming less relevant with each cycle. Before the proliferation of cable outlets and later political websites and Twitter, the conventions were an opportune way to roll out a presidential candidate and platform to the lions-share of Americans who had limited information. Additionally, they actually mattered in terms of determining the presidential nominee as recently as 1976.
But today with greater polarization, with the parties selecting their candidates through primaries, and with conventions now being choreographed with no suspense most voters have tuned out. The political class and media cover them wall to wall, but how many votes can they actually swing? This is not to say that they are obsolete as they do motivate the party faithful and for the party out of power, present an opportunity to introduces their nominee on a national stage.
Much like in a previous posting on the VP selection, the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm is the key here. Did the Republican Party accomplish what is wanted and needed to? Let's look at a few of these questions:
Be diverse and inclusive and not the stereotypical party dominated by white southern males...
I think this was accomplished for the most part. There were many speaker presenting a diverse party face to the public. Condi Rice, Artur Davis, and several other African Americans had prime-time speaking roles. Hispanics were highlighted as well in Gov. Susan Martinez of New Mexico and FL Senator Marco Rubio.
Many Republican women were featured with Ann Romney giving a very well received speech (more on this in a minute).
However, the visuals of the audience show a party membership that is undeniably dominated by older whites (polling bears this out as well). Also, there was one particularly ugly incident that could have been attributed to racism that resulted in a couple of delegates being ejected from the convention.
Was an effective case laid out for replacing President Obama? How specific was the GOP in outlining alternate policies?
The strategy was twofold - red meat to motivate the party activists and an appeal to moderate voters to convince them that is is "OK" to fire the President. What was interesting on that end was that there was a minimum of over the top gratuitous attacks on Obama. Rather there was an outlining of how Obama's priorities and policies have not been beneficial to the nation. Some of the argument involved a lot of truth stretching - a common occurrence at political conventions. But I think it was effective overall. We will see what the polling shows in the next few days.
VP nominee Paul Ryan gave a particularly effective speech to the convention although some of the assertions he made have been challenged. I will also take a moment here to say that Ryan has injected much-needed energy in the Romney campaign.
Mitt Romney also highlighted his private sector expertise and didn't run from Bain Capital, in fact he embraced it. The betting is that presenting Romney as a fix-it candidate will resonate with the relatively low number of persuadable voters.
There was an interesting lack of focus (Ric Santorum excepted) on social issues. The betting is that highlighting the GOP's social conservatism will not help with women and swing voters. Note that MO candidate Todd Akin was immediately shunned by the party after some bizarre remarks that would be toxic if they were not quickly repudiated.
Was Mitt Romney "humanized?"
Ann Romney's speech began the process of transforming the perception of Mitt Romney. Humanizing him is very important. The Obama campaign's negative ads regarding Bain Capital have been particularly effective and the strategy to counter this was to present Romney as a family man, not a Snidely Whiplash robber-baron.
Overall, I think that this worked. The litany of speakers personalizing Romney wrapping up with his acceptances speech where he showed emotion contrasted with the public image that many may have had. How much success with voters this had will be determined in the next few weeks.
Romney's acceptance speech was good which is about what he was aiming for. He will never be ranked with the great orators, but he had to present himself as presidential, This was accomplished.
Clint Eastwood - no comment! (OK, in hindsight this may have been an effective bit of impromptu theater, but I was truly cringing on my initial viewing of his 12 minute...address)
My overall take is that the convention succeeded in what it needed to do. The party faithful seemed pleased with how things went and there were no major hiccups or bad moments. TV viewership was down considerably from 2008, so this cannot all be construed as positive. But the party faithful were motivated and Romney was able to leave Tampa heading a unified and more importantly, motivated party.
Remember that political conventions typically produce a polling bounce of a few point is the week following. With the polling showing a virtually tied race with very few undecideds, I think the bounce will be on the low side.
We will look at the Democrat's turn in North Carolina this week with an analysis next weekend.
Post party conventions and Labor Day - it's game on for the next eight weeks!