Mitt Romney is not a great public speaker – and his big convention address was not a great public speech.
This was the most important hour of his political life – and he performed perhaps better than he has ever done. But even some right-leaning magazines the morning after could only rate his performance as “mediocre”. He got people on their feet several times, had a few good lines, but nothing that was truly memorable or will outlive the campaign.
Polls tell us that the new Republican nominee – we can finally call him that even though it has been inevitable since late May – is viewed unfavourably by most people.
And so in prime time on American television, before an audience which was predicted to hit 40 million, this was an opportunity for him to better introduce himself. He got a little misty-eyed when he talked about his five sons and his wife for 43 years, Ann. It seemed genuine and heartfelt . He got emotional when he spoke about his parents. His father George ran for the Republican nomination in 1968, but lost out to Richard Nixon. He also spoke about his mother and how he promoted women to top jobs while in business and while Governor of Massachusetts.
He told the convention “When my mom ran for the Senate … I can still hear her saying in her beautiful voice, ‘Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?'”
Yet – as was quickly pointed out on social media sites, this is a candidate for a party whose official platform would remove from women the say they have over their own bodies if they wanted, or even needed, to have an abortion.
Despite such criticism, this was a more human Mitt Romney than we’ve seen on the campaign trail and it may make people like him a little bit more.
When he turned to President Barack Obama’s record, Romney sounded more disappointed than angry. He worked on a theme that everyone was caught up in the excitement and the promise of Obama’s election, but had been left disappointed. That perhaps gave him his best line of the night “You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”
There was little from the nominee on how he would address some of the problems that Obama has faced, the divisions and gridlock that have left politicians in the United States with their lowest approval ratings in history. He talked about his five-point plan for the economy in broad general terms. He promised energy independence by 2020. It’s been a goal of Republicans and Democrats since the 1960s and seems no closer now. And, if it ever happened, some economists suggest the idea could actually push up prices in the US if cheaper, imported oil was ignored simply to make a political point.
On foreign policy, there was talk of Iran and Israel, warnings to China and Russia. Interestingly, though, this was a speech from a nominee which failed to mention the country where US soldiers are still fighting and dying in battle – Afghanistan. He gave no indication on how he would handle his biggest challenge if elected Commander-in-Chief.
The people in the hall loved the speech, and many of those who were concerned about Romney’s candidacy seemed reassured. Two delegates I spoke to immediately after seemed almost giddy with excitement.
Democrats, unsurprisingly, were not so enthusiastic. James Carville, the man who helped steer Bill Clinton to the White House, dismissed Romney’s speech as “Bush’s economic policy, Cheney’s foreign policy and Rick Santorum’s social policy”.
Romney now hits the campaign trail again to sell what he’s been saying. He’ll be hoping for a bump in the polls. Anything less than three points, in what is a tight race, would be a huge disappointment.
The voter map, and America’s own electoral college system of counting the votes, means that Mitt Romney still faces a huge task to win the White House.
But the economy remains a dangerous area for Barack Obama. Unless people see an improvement, or more importantly, feel an improvement, it might not matter that in Tampa, Mitt’s message was “mediocre”.
Follow Alan on Twitter @AlanFisher