Convention Notes 2012: Republican Convention

Convention Notes are written in reverse chronological order, the latest incident/speaker first. These are not "live" notes in the sense that I listen to every speech or publish the moment something is said. Mostly, my notes are an overview of each convention's tone, attitude, and communication decisions.


Remarks by presidential nominee Mitt Romney

He approaches the stage by glad-handing people in the audience. Not a bad idea. I still love Bush W.'s walk out on stage, mostly because W. wore his clothes so well, and he just looked fine.

But in order to sell Romney as a friendly dude, the audience-walk isn't a bad idea.

The crowd has been revved up--quite a feat considering Mitt's reserve.

He mentions Paul Ryan right away--a smart idea (it's a love fest!).

He did mention the music joke.

I actually quite like his soft speaking--and the enunciation.

Nice mention of Neil Armstrong.

Good biographical information. Again, light on religion. Heavy on the parenthood/family theme. And the women as tough politicians theme.

As an exemplar of middle-class, wholesome America, he really is quite believable.

"Jobs for [Obama] are about government."

"Is it any wonder that someone who attacks success is leading the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression."

"In America, we celebrate success; we don't punish it!"

"This president cannot tell you that you are better off today than when he took office."

"Today, the day has come to turn the page."

"What America needs is jobs--lots of jobs."

His lines aren't as memorable as the lines of other speakers. But he is sincere and well-meaning: that does come through.

Makes strong points about how Obama's policies will eliminate jobs and further depress the economy.

Romney and Ryan's plan to create 12 million more jobs:

1. North America will be energy-independent.
2. Parents can choose schools for kids.
3. New trade agreements.
4. Cut deficit.
5. Champion small business! (I LIKE this one.)
6. Repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Other issues:

1. Not raise taxes on the middle-class.
2. Pro-life.
3. Protect marriage (this means Romney and Ryan don't support legalizing gay marriage).
4. Freedom of religion (not sure what this is related to).
5. Rather than healing the planet, Romney will help you and your family (this was actually a very funny moment when Romney said, "Obama promised to heal the planet," and then just paused and looked speculative).
6. Help Israel. Stand up to Putin. Strong military.

Ends on a strong note! Some of the other speakers were more charismatic, but he sold himself to his party, which is the point of the convention.

The balloons!!! I love the balloons. Awesome balloons!!!!


Senator Marco Rubio: Tough to follow Clint, but wise to bring in someone between Clint and Romney. And this guy is good--funny, straight-forward, and pro-Free-Cuba! (one of those random causes that I'm actually all for even though it impacts me not at all).

"There was no limit to how far I could go because I was an American"--this is the main theme of the convention, and, yeah, I happen to believe in that old-fashioned idea of the American Light on the Hill.

"Our problem [with Obama] is not that he is a bad person. Our problem is that he is a bad president"--the second note of the convention.

And I agree that Obama's technique of pitting evil fat-cat rich people against poor people is pretty despicable. I've never been a big fan of the bitter side of populism.

Stories about parents who sacrificed for their children has also been a consistent theme: "[My father] stood behind a bar at the back of a room for so many years so someday I could stand behind a podium at the front of a room."

"Dreams that were impossible anywhere else come true here."

One thing that strikes me the most is how fervent, believing, the speakers have been in this convention. This is actually rather different from prior conventions by both parties.

So this guy might be difficult to follow!



Clint Eastwood: he kind of rambles, but it's Clint Eastwood! He could get up and say, "Peanut butter," and everyone would love him.

His routine was odd and random but enormously effective: "[Biden] is kind of a grin with a body behind it . . . You see, I never thought it was a good idea for lawyers to be president . . . [To an imaginary Obama] You can still use the plane--well, not the big one, the gas guzzler that you use to fly to colleges and talk to students about their loans . . . [To the crowd] Someone doesn't do the job: you gotta let them go. Okay, you want to 'make my day,' huh? I'll start it, you finish it. Go ahead--" MAKE MY DAY!


Video about Mitt Romney: The stuff by Mitt's kids about their dad's cheapness was hilarious. The stuff about keeping campaign promises in Massachusetts was impressive. It was good. I was a little surprised that his LDS membership wasn't discussed. But not disappointed. Romney isn't going to use or not use the church; he is making it a non-issue.

9:45 p.m.

Olympic presentation: very nice. The Olympics to me are kind of like PBS to Sir Humphrey: I don't watch it, but it's nice to know that it's there.

I actually liked the first speaker because she talked over the applause. I know the applause is necessary, but it can be disruptive.

This presentation is a very smart move, by the way, especially since the summer Olympics was held this year. And doubly smart move to have a member of the "Miracle on Ice" team give the main speech.

The sweet thing about these speakers is that they are not professionally trained speakers--why should they be? They give a reality touch to the convention.


Remarks by vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan

A strong defense of Romney. As a potential VP, that's his job!

He knows his stuff--I like that in a politician. But in all truth, I like him better in committee meetings when he is more relaxed and starts laughing when bureaucrats give him the run-around.

"As if that's the whole problem here? [Obama] needs to talk more?!" That's the slightly acerbic Ryan I enjoy. "We need to stop spending money we don't have. Really simple. Not that hard."

"My mom is my role model"--well, shoot, Ryan, how awesome is that!

"That's freedom: I'll take it any day over the sanctimony and supervision of the central planners." Ryan truly believes what he is saying; it isn't just rhetoric. (He has relaxed a great deal from the beginning of his speech.)

His joke about Romney listening to elevator music was truly funny.

"[Romney] is a fine man."

"We believe in every person is goodness. Every person has hope."

Overall, the message of this convention has been surprisingly positive. It's a great attitude: the future can progress, improve, expand.

"Our rights come from nature and God and not from government!"

"We can do this!"


Okay, so the best line of the evening so far was Governor Susana Martinez (NM) saying, about the deficit, "Obama did build that!"

Okay, that was clever.

These Republican female congresswomen and governors are very cool. No whining about glass ceilings and self-congratulations on being a female in power. It's all about the work!


Condoleezza Rice has a gift for the bon mot. She hits the right notes.

9:30 p.m.

Huckabee is a good speaker! I can see why he had such a following during the primaries.

Huckabee's slogan, "We can do better" has a better ring than "We built it." Really, only Nike made a slogan with "it" that worked: Do it!

"I care less about where Romney takes himself to church than where he takes this country."

None of the prayers at the convention have been given by a Mormon. I don't have a problem with this, but then, I happen to believe in a secular government. The LDS leadership is actually doing a fairly good job--at least here in Maine--at stepping back from the candidates. Far more focus is being aimed at how Mormons should handle questions from neighbors about the church.

"I feel better about a president who will give generously of his own money than mine or yours."

9:00 p.m.

Governor Luis Fortuño (PR): He gave your basic pep rally speech. He was on one of PBS's roundtables yesterday, and I really liked his Ryan-like focus on facts and numbers.

8:30 p.m.

Lawyers discussed Obama Care. This is one topic where I am firmly in the Republican camp. As a college adjunct, my income hovers in a weird no-man's-land: some years, I bring in a very good income and some years, I bring in hardly anything at all. If I am forced to purchase health insurance or if any more money is removed from my paycheck through an increase in taxes, I literally will have to stop teaching. Ah, the irony: I work in a service-oriented job for the sake of the job rather than the money, but a party that supposedly supports service rather than big, bad business will make it impossible for me to keep that job. I'll have to go back to working for law firms: go figure.

8:00 p.m.

Ah, it's defense night. Defense usually is the second night, but it seems an odd theme for a night that will end with Paul Ryan, who is all about the economy.

McCain spoke tonight, so I felt obligated to give his speech a listen. It wasn't all that interesting even if accurate (I don't think most Americans realize how much they have benefited, in terms of pure safety, by the United States engaging the enemy "over there"). He isn't a powerhouse speaker like Christie. But he's clear and to the point. 

7:00 p.m.

The only speaker I really care about tonight is Paul Ryan. We'll see how it goes!


Keynote Speaker: Chris Christie

"We've become paralyzed by our desire to be loved."

"Tonight, I say, enough."

His message: it is possible to fix things.

"[The people in NJ] rewarded politicians who led rather than politicians who pandered."

He's giving the convention's comparison/contrast speech: this is what they believe/this is what we believe.

He's got good delivery--this keynote speech is the pep rally speech and has to be given by someone who knows how to punch out lines. Christie does it right: "Stand up. It's time to stand up."

Mitt Romney is in the house--this is typical of him. Ordinarily, the presidential candidate waits until Day 3 to make a brief appearance, Day 4 to make his big appearance. Mitt showed up early and stayed to hear Christie's speech. I think he is truly uncomfortable with the idea of the big appearance.  On the one hand, I admire his refusal to play that role; on the other hand, um, Mitt, politics is showmanship.

(Bill Clinton is giving the keynote next week--I can't imagine this is something he wants to do. But he is a good speaker.)

Candidate's Wife: Ann Romney

Ann Romney is, okay, totally brilliant--she brought up Hurricane Isaac and dealt with it sympathetically.

She is just cute. And she has played the "women suffer to make things right" card completely effectively. I'm not a huge fan of this card, but, boy, could it be played better? "You are the best of America."

"We're too smart to believe there are easy answers, but we're not dumb enough to believe they're aren't better answers."

"What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage." You go, girl!

"No one will work harder. No one will care more . . . This man will not let us down. You can trust Mitt. Give him that chance."

She believes it!

So, maybe, Ann should give all the speeches. Mitt can do the debates.


Mark Shields just played a card that I hate: The RNC isn't a minority party even though we just saw a bunch of minority speakers. Oh, he says, those are just token speakers. I hate that kind of dismissiveness. This, actually, was one of the things that turned me off to the Democratic Party way back when I was in my early 20's: the dismissal of women like Barbara Bush as just saying what her husband wanted her to say. I really despise people telling me that I'm supposed to vote a certain way because I'm a woman.


Artur Davis: great one-liners, an important part of any political campaign. And he makes excellent points. I always love the Zell Miller speakers. (Though he is mixing his metaphors.)

Best line: "He [Romney] doesn't confuse the presidency with celebrity."

9:30 p.m. 

Rick Santorum hits the same notes as Governor Scott Walker (though he sounds more like a General Authority; that's a Mormon joke). The vision of America as a place of freedom and opportunity is a wonderful, uplifting vision, and I more or less agree with it. However, it is threaded through with so many complications and exceptions and expenses and compromises that it is hard not to see that vision as just that: a vision, not a realistic plan.

Still--the job of the party is to create a vision, and I think the RNC has achieved this (and Santorum's "above the law" jab at Obama is, unfortunately, somewhat deserved).

There's an unusual thread where speakers refer to disabled children as succeeding despite the "experts." It is quite effective as an analogy (the U.S. is supposed to fail according to the "experts," but it won't).

9:00 p.m.

Interesting point raised by the analysts: the speakers are talking more about what Obama is doing wrong than what Romney will do right. This is kind of true (and not atypical for the Opposition). However, the speakers are hitting a consistent affirmative note: we support small business, i.e. Hayek. I have to agree that the Federal Government has never been particularly pro-small business. I'm not sure it started with Obama; his government certainly isn't helping.

Governor Scott Walker hit all the above notes.

8:30 p.m. 

I hate to say it, but I don't think "We built it" is all that powerful a slogan. Eh, ending on a pronoun: not exactly "We are the world" (even if the latter is kind of fuzzy and meaningless).

8:00 p.m.

PBS has totally improved its look. I like Mike Lehrer, but his NewsHour also looked like a bunch of people hunched in a booth somewhere. Miking the analysts as well as Woodruff and Ifill has definitely created a stronger professional impression. But they need to fix their floor mikes.

Valenzuela (another Republican female politician running this year; these gals are great: straight-forward, passionate, and unapologetic) is speaking. She does what I'm always telling my students to do: use personal evidence (the specific) to prove a principle (the general). It's the most effective academic and persuasive technique out there.

7:30 p.m.

The Maine delegation walked out because of the absence of Ron Paul--yeah, those Maine Republicans: not exactly compromise-friendly (says a Mainer). If Ron Paul uses this as an opportunity to throw a little love-fest, he will be exercising power for the sake of power, not a greater good. The U.S. is a two-party system; the system has its flaws, but it also has its benefits: countries with tiny little factions squabbling over minutiae have rarely fared well.

Mayor Mia Love from Utah is quite cool. Love her passion. And her parallelism!!

7:00 p.m.

PBS is worried about Ron Paul. They think that young people, like college students, love Ron Paul. If he doesn't get a voice at the Republican Convention, will they vote for Romney?

Here's the terribly sad truth--college students don't vote. They've never been as huge a factor in elections as analysts seem to think.

David Brooks and Mark Shields are still on PBS doing their thing! I really like their urbanity; this is one reason I watch PBS (by the way, if you watch PBS online, ignore the "chat"; it isn't thoughtful; it's just reactionary).

When Bush W. ran the first time, the convention hall was pastel--seriously; it was kind of weird. This convention hall is going for highlighted red and blue with modernized elephant graphics. The effect is more stark decorative than light celebration. Though still better lit than the Gore Democratic Convention, it is far less lit than previous conventions. I wonder if, as the Brits would say, the Opposition always goes for serious.


The interesting thing is how often the political speakers are focusing on Paul Ryan. Romney's position as a Washington outsider is being unintentionally emphasized.

MONDAY, August 27th, 

7:00 p.m.

If you want to watch the Republican Convention "live," CNN is showing the convention hall. It's sunny in Tampa!

The convention was officially opened this afternoon, but the speakers, including Ann Romney, were mixed in with tomorrow's speakers due to possible negative weather conditions. Ann Romney will speak right before Chris Christie, which should provide for an interesting evening.

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