TAMPA, Fla.—As the 2012 GOP convention quickly recedes onto the trash heap of history, it may be worth taking a few moments to think about what, exactly, happened.
First and foremost, and surely much to his chagrin, the candidate was upstaged at every turn—by his family, by his running mate, by his invited mystery guest, and even by Mother Nature.
Hurricane Isaac received more prominent billing in Tampa than did Mitt Romney, although both headliners shared the distinction of delivering much less than they promised in the Sunshine State.
But there were moments that ranged from the absurd to the sublime and back again. Here, then, is a lineup of the best and worst moments in Tampa:
Ann Romney: The candidate’s wife comes in for a large dose of kudos. She delivered a charming and sincere address to the convention that almost succeeded in humanizing her semi-robotic husband. The young man who won her heart was “tall, laughed a lot, (and) nervous,” and seems like a nice enough guy. That he was a good husband and father is clear – although whether that makes him good presidential material is less so.
Mia Love, Susana Martinez, Marco Rubio, Artur Davis: This Republican version of a Rainbow Coalition came to Tampa with one purpose: to convince minorities, specifically blacks and Hispanics, that this overwhelmingly white Party could adequately represent their interests. They were young, attractive, and articulate, especially Love, who is running for Congress from Utah. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Love converted to Mormonism when she met Jason Love, a Mormon missionary in Connecticut.
Rubio, the Cuban-American senator from Florida, very nearly became Romney’s running mate, but in the end economics triumphed. Romney chose policy wonk Paul Ryan to balance the ticket, rather than add a little ethnic spice to the mix.
Martinez, the first female Hispanic governor, made a positive impression, especially when she told the delegates how she carried a 357 magnum at age 18; and Davis, who had nominated Barack Obama in 2008, was the perfect symbol for disappointed liberals. Davis is African-American, which should remove the possibility of a “racist” stigma from anyone who now rejects the president.
The RNC organizing crew: The committee that put together the convention was friendly and informed, even the security personnel. Reporters were treated to free coffee and loads of goodies, from GOP pens with magic flash drives to copies of Romney’s book, “No Apology.” Police seemed to be on a charm offensive, making anyone who objected to the frequent searches and confiscations feel churlish.
Reince Priebus: By the end of the convention, there was not a journalist in sight who did not want to throttle the Republican National Committee Chair. Priebus’ nasal whine and sulky demeanor made his remarks sound more like schoolyard taunts than political statements. “President Obama's never run a company. He hasn't even run a garage sale or seen the inside of a lemonade stand,” said Priebus in his opening remarks.
My press gallery neighbor, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, liked that one. “How do they fact check these things?” he muttered. “I mean, do they know for a fact he never ran a lemonade stand?”
Paul Ryan: The VP candidate is young, good-looking, and undeniably smart—too smart to have delivered a speech so full of inaccuracies and distortions as the one he gave Wednesday night. Ryan had to know the fact-checkers were standing ready, but he went ahead anyway. This means he is either too arrogant to think he can be brought down or so cynical that he thinks the voting public won’t notice or care.
He is also responsible for the most egregious philosophical paradox of the convention. “If you're feeling left out or passed by… You have not failed, your leaders have failed you,” Ryan told the crowd. But this is after a whole day of lionizing individual responsibility, the “We built it” trope. So if you succeed, you did it all by yourself, but if you fail it’s the government’s fault? How does that work, exactly?
Other thumbs-down moments included the $5 soft pretzels sold at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. And the fact that Republican women smoke in the bathroom.
Clint Eastwood: No contest on this one. The iconic actor has obviously lost his marbles, and his rambling conversation with an empty chair purporting to be the president was painful to watch. He also did the unforgivable—he completely upstaged the candidate. In the aftermath of Thursday’s supposedly triumphal festivities, no one asked about Romney’s speech. Instead, it was “Did you see Clint Eastwood?”
But Eastwood did provide insight into the Republican campaign strategy: if you cannot tear down your opponent fair and square, create a mythical foe to engage. You can ascribe all manner of faults and foibles to this wholly created bad guy—in this case, a man who seemed to lack all rational argument except for a propensity to tell his interlocutor to go perform a highly improbable sexual acts.
“What? What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. That. He can't do that to himself,” whispered Eastwood, as a nervous titter spread through the hall.
Perhaps it was Eastwood’s Obama who removed the work requirement from welfare? The Republicans—Newt Gingrich most recently—have insisted that the president is determined to allow freeloaders to remain on the public dole, even though this out-and-out falsehood has been discredited by every fact-checker out there.
But if you are dealing with imaginary monsters, anything’s possible.