What we learned at the Republican National Convention

(C) cletch

By Alex Bryan

Given that Mitt Romney has been the Republican Presidential candidate-in-waiting for many months now, it is tempting to suggest that the Republican National Convention last week was nothing more than a rubber stamp, or an excuse for Republicans from all over the nation to come together and celebrate their vision for America. The delaying of the Convention due to adverse weather dampened the party atmosphere initially, but by the end of the event, there was a tangible sense of optimism emanating from Tampa.

Romney’s poll ratings have not had the dramatic boost that John McCain enjoyed 4 years ago, but that is to be expected; McCain’s Convention bump was essentially artificial, and based on the short-lived and limited popularity of the then little-known Alaskan Sarah Palin. However, this does not mean that nothing of substance can be taken from the convention. In fact a number of things can:

1 – The Republicans might not love Romney, but they are unified behind him.

Much has been made of the Republican Party’s lukewarm response to Mitt Romney throughout the primary period. Indeed, the process could be seen as a series of unsuccessful attempts from other Republicans to expose Romney’s obvious weaknesses. The initial enthusiasm for Rick Perry, the surprisingly sustained support for Rick Santorum and the recurrence of the names of Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels (among others) showed how little excitement there was that Romney appeared to be the candidate in pole position. As is the way of the GOP though, now that the die is cast, the party is uniting around him. Save for a few eclectic Ron Paul obsessives, the party has rallied round Romney on the basis of a common enemy; few Republicans are passionate about the prospect of President Romney, but all Republicans loathe the idea of four more years for President Obama.

2. The Tea Party is dead – for now

For the last 4 years, in the struggle to redefine itself post-George Bush, the GOP has been tempted by the ideological zeal and undoubted passion of the Tea Party movement. It could be argued that the whitewash in the 2010 elections was partly down to Tea Party turnout, even if the more radically right-wing candidates such as Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle and Ken Buck lost key Congressional races. In 2012 however, the Tea Party is no longer the dominant force of conservative politics in American politics. Rosie Gray at Buzzfeed noted that none of the primetime speakers even said the words ‘Tea Party.’ Even if the Tea Party is still the ideological support of a great deal of Republican policy, its existence as an independent body is no longer acknowledged publically; it has been subsumed by the wider Republican Party.

3. Romney’s lack of personal charisma may not be a problem

A common criticism of Mitt Romney is that he is too robotic, that he lacks the human warmth that Barack Obama so exudes. The RNC confirmed this assumption, but also suggests that this is less of a problem than some might think. Mitt Romney is not running a campaign which relies on being liked. It is an essentially nostalgic campaign – the content of Romney’s speech (such as invoking the memory of Neil Armstrong) aligned with the style of it. Romney is hoping that his lack of sparkle will work as a plus point, an attraction for an electorate looking for a Richard Nixon after discovering that President Obama is not John Kennedy.

4. Mitt Romney is running for CEO of America – and the election will hinge on whether the public thinks that is enough.

Another common criticism of Romney is that he is so focussed on business that it feels as though he is running to be CEO rather than President of American. But the fact that this is so often levied as a criticism is missing the point. Despite his rather murky record at Bain Capital, Mitt Romney knows if he can frame this election as one where the central issue is that of the economy, he has an excellent chance of winning. President Obama’s campaign has been one focussed on exposing the more radical aspects of Republican policy so far, focussing on Paul Ryan’s Medicare plans and the nationwide Republican effort to halt abortions. The candidates are fighting two different battles; whoever is President in 2013 will have been the candidate who was most successful in persuading America that theirs is the one worth joining.


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