Saturday, September 01, 2012

Republican National Convention, Romney, Ryan, Rubio, Rice and The Empty Chair

Rorschach Test? Or replacement for that faded poster on your wall?

One down. One to go.  Some thoughts on the GOP Convention just ended before we plunge headlong into the Dems Convention next week.

Improbably, the moment that will define this convention for all time occurred in the very last hour as an 82 year old iconic actor spent 12 minutes talking to a empty chair.  If you didn't see it you can catch the act here, and reactions everywhere.   Truth be told, I enjoyed the spontaneity and cringe inducing weirdness of it all. The perfectly polished, precision timed, everyone scripted, stay on message regimentation of the convention up to that point had my eyes glassing over and pretty much drained all interest in the proceedings. Clint's improv brought me back, although I suspect I am in the minority with that perspective.  The president punctuated the event with his own rejoinder in the form of an amusing tweet:

That should have been the end of it, but of course - this being American politics at it's finest - we're just getting started. 

That single image invoked by Clint Eastwood - The Empty Chair - has taken on a life of it's own, extending far beyond Eastwood's performance. An Invisible Obama Twitter account featuring The Empty Chair garnered 60,000 followers in 24 hours.

The risk for the Obama campaign is that The Empty Chair is analogous to the Empty Suit - it invokes exactly the negative connotation that the GOP would like to associate with President Obama - that of an clueless, incompetent leader who is "not there". By early indications - that image is going to be front and center, squarely in the face of the electorate non-stop between now and the election. More people will see it and the connotation it carries than see both conventions combined. If you believe that images have the power to persuade and this election turns out to be as close as it looks now, it is entirely conceivable that Clint Eastwood just won the election for Mitt Romney.

It'll be interesting to see how the Democrats respond in their convention. Any response will give legs to the meme. Their best option may be to take the high road, ignore it and pretend like it never happened. We'll see. In any case - Clint made it interesting again.

Let me be clear. There is no way to spin the Clint Eastwood act except as FUBAR from the perspective of the GOP convention organizers. The shots of Anne Romney scowling, of Ryan looking at his watch, the missed opportunity to show the Romney video during prime time, the late start for Mitt's long speech, are unrelentingly bad for the convention image.  I just think the unintended positive consequences to the Romney campaign are not yet fully appreciated.

Back to the convention. It was shortened to 3 days by hurricane Isaac and for that I was grateful. I watched as much of it as I could tolerate. My impressions of the top three speeches each night. 

Day 1 - Tuesday, September 28

Bronze Medal - Chris Christie.
It was a good speech, but it fell well short of expectations. On the plus side, he motivated the base and the delegates in the hall.  His effort fulfilled the purpose of a keynote address by nicely framing the way Republicans want to see themselves in contrast to the Democrats. On the minus side, it was a little too transparently self-serving and did not sufficiently tie Romney to the GOP vision he outlined. Net-net more positive than negative for the party in general, but it probably took him a few notches down as far as his own political ambitions are concerned.

Silver Medal - Anne Romney
This was everyone's favorite, but for me - meh. Yes it was good and it met the objective of bolstering the GOP claim that Mitt Romney is, in fact, not a robot.  I found it a little too predictable and polished. Then again – the speech was clearly aimed at women voters, so maybe I missed it.

Gold Medal - Nikki Haley
Brief concise, cogent and coherent.  Nikki Haley's speech narrowly edged Mia Love – which was also great. They should be considered a virtual tie for the gold.  I thought she came across as more genuine, articulate, intelligent, engaging and comfortable at the podium than anyone else that night. On the “leg thrill” scale - she was in the same ballpark as Obama at the 2004 convention. Listening to her I thought – “I’m looking at a future POTUS.” I had the same thought while watching Obama in 2004.

Day 2 - Wednesday, September 29

Bronze Medal – Paul Ryan
A slow start which threatened to grind to a complete halt before he found his voice, hit his stride and finished strong. After hearing the Portman and Pawlenty speeches earlier, we learned Romney made the right choice by tapping Ryan as VP. One great line stood out:
"College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get on with life."
It already spawned a  clever TV ad:

Silver Medal – Rand Paul
Our libertarian Senator in GOP clothes is playing the GOP infiltration game better than his dad. The contrast between Paul’s quiet reminder that all spending, including defense, has to be cut – immediately followed by John McCain railing for increasing the already bloated defense budget was almost jarring. Paul may or may not be the future of the GOP, but he should be.Socialists have the voice of Bernie Sanders in the Senate, Libertarians have Rand Paul. It's a good thing.

Gold Medal – Condoleeza Rice
She killed it. No teleprompter and a real speech. Real issues, real policy ideas, actual logical threads, a coherent theme, and all sincerely delivered with genuine style. I’d almost forgotten what a  real speech sounds like. Hand's down, best speech of the entire convention.

Day 3 - Thursday, September 30

Bronze Medal - Marco Rubio
I am sure it was a great speech. It's just that I was still in such a state of cognitive dissonance after Eastwood's performance - I don't remember any of it.

Silver Medal - Mitt Romney
Mitt did what he needed to do. It was long. It was short on details. It was overly sanitized and the performance was still a bit wooden.  I wouldn’t rank it above any of the other top speeches on any of the three nights. But it was in the top 10. Barely. And it was good enough. With one great line.

The framing Republican strategists wanted out of this convention is simply this:   Romney – a practical, nuts and bolts, problem solving, solution oriented successful businessman/leader vs. Obama – a speechifying celebrity, head in the clouds idealist out of touch with the real world problems of the average American in these tough times.

In that context– this line hit it out of the park:
“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.”
We can expect to hear that frequently. The  TV ad writes itself. FOpen with videotape of Obama delivering his 2008 acceptance speech between fake Greek columns in Mile High Stadium promising to roll back the oceans and heal the planet, then cut to mild mannered Mitt - “I am promising to be here for you and your family.”  The contrast will be effective. Democrats are mistaking that line as an attack on environmental issues. It's not. It is making a direct comparison between the personalities of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

Gold Medal - Clint
What else is there to say? Nothing else that happened over the entire convention had a bigger impact than Clint's comedic stylings. It turned out to be a Rorschach Test.  Republicans and Democrats alike embraced his performance as helpful to their cause. Democrats see an old white man yelling at a chair as a symbol for the Republican Party. Republicans see the empty chair as a symbol of the presidency.

Time will tell.

1 comment:

Tully said...

And now we have the empty podium to go with the chair.