Commentary: The Republican National Convention

Sep 4, 2012

Okay.  What’s the deal with Clint Eastwood at the Republican Convention?  Dirty Harry said, at the end of one of those movies: “A man’s got know his limitations.”  Eastwood should have taken Dirty Harry’s advice.  What were the Republicans thinking?

To the main story: Paul Ryan.  Just kidding.  The vice presidential nominee hasn’t mattered since 1960, when Lyndon Johnson carried Texas and won the presidency for John Kennedy, and I don’t expect that 52-year string to be broken in 2012.

I asked the students in my American Political Parties class at Columbia College to watch Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech and to email me their reactions: Was it successful and did it change their minds about him?  This exercise is interesting because, for most of them, it will be their first time voting and the first vote often casts a long shadow.

Of the six who responded four went into the speech with a negative attitude about Romney.  One said it was a “dud but there were some high points so give him some credit.”  Another said the speech was directed to older middle class people and not people in her situation.  Two said they had not thought about voting for him but are now thinking about it.

Two went in as supporters.  One liked Romney before but now loves him.  The other is more positive than before but thought he pandered to women and immigrants.

Did I think it was successful and did it change my mind?  It was a professional, somewhat wooden speech.  This stands to reason, since apparently Romney wrote most of it himself.  Mitt Romney will rarely be confused with Bill Clinton or even George Bush in his ability to loosen up and connect with people.  Actually he reminds me of Al Gore in that regard.  That would have been an interesting set of debates – Mitt Romney and Al Gore.  Viewers would have injured themselves rushing to their TV sets to switch to the Food Channel where they could see some real excitement.  But I digress.

I listened to Morning Edition on KBIA Friday after the speech.  Predictably I heard lots of fact-checking and deep analysis – it’s what NPR does and does well.  But Romney doesn’t – and shouldn’t – care about what NPR thinks.  He had two goals.  One was to get a few million Americans to think: “That guy could be President of the United States, maybe better than the other guy.”  The other was to motivate the Republican base to get those people to the polls on November 6.  I think he accomplished both goals.  The question is: Will enough of these people turn out and vote for him?

Next week I’ll tell you what my students say about President Obama’s acceptance speech.

Terry Smith is Executive Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs at Columbia College, and a regular contributor to Talking Politics.