My Basic Take on Romney’s Speech

I give it a C+/B- (adequate, passing, nothing exceptional).

In considering Mitt Romney’s speech last night, I would say that he was adequate.  I would also note two things.  One, he knows he has problems and two, I am not sure were the substance was in terms of governing.

First, the problems.

He knows he need to paint himself as normal (whatever that may mean):

We were Mormons and growing up in Michigan; that might have seemed unusual or out of place but I really don’t remember it that way. My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we went to.

[…]

I grew up in Detroit in love with cars and wanted to be a car guy, like my dad. But by the time I was out of school, I realized that I had to go out on my own, that if I stayed around Michigan in the same business, I’d never really know if I was getting a break because of my dad. I wanted to go someplace new and prove myself.

Those weren’t the easiest of days – too many long hours and weekends working, five young sons who seemed to have this need to re-enact a different world war every night. But if you ask Ann and I what we’d give, to break up just one more fight between the boys, or wake up in the morning and discover a pile of kids asleep in our room. Well, every mom and dad knows the answer to that.

He knows he has problems with women:

When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way. 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?”

I wish she could have been here at the convention and heard leaders like Governor Mary Fallin, Governor Nikki Haley, Governor Susana Martinez, Senator Kelly Ayotte and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

As Governor of Massachusetts, I chose a woman Lt. Governor, a woman chief of staff, half of my cabinet and senior officials were women, and in business, I mentored and supported great women leaders who went on to run great companies.

He knows that he has to overcome the fact that a lot of people still like Barack Obama personally:

How many days have you woken up feeling that something really special was happening in America?

Many of you felt that way on Election Day four years ago. Hope and Change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? 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.

The President hasn’t disappointed you because he wanted to.

Of course, having acknowledged these problems, I am not sure he did anything to fix them.

Second, he failed to do much in terms of policy save hand-waving:

And unlike the President, I have a plan to create 12 million new jobs. It has 5 steps.

First, by 2020, North America will be energy independent by taking full advantage of our oil and coal and gas and nuclear and renewables.

Second, we will give our fellow citizens the skills they need for the jobs of today and the careers of tomorrow. When it comes to the school your child will attend, every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance.

Third, we will make trade work for America by forging new trade agreements. And when nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences.

Fourth, to assure every entrepreneur and every job creator that their investments in America will not vanish as have those in Greece, we will cut the deficit and put America on track to a balanced budget.

And fifth, we will champion SMALL businesses, America’s engine of job growth. That means reducing taxes on business, not raising them. It means simplifying and modernizing the regulations that hurt small business the most. And it means that we must rein in the skyrocketing cost of healthcare by repealing and replacing Obamacare.

These are not bullet points of a plan, these are items on a wish list (and some of them are decades old).

Energy independence in eight years?  How?  Is such a thing even possible?

School choice?  First, not a federal issue.  Second, choice alone does not equal quality, let alone universal quality.

Trade?  Ok, trade is nice, but this is extremely vague.

Balance budget?  All well and good: but how? (Especially if the goals are to increase defense spending and cut taxes?).

Yay, small business?   Even if we stipulate for the sake of discussion that health care reform will cost small businesses, will the repeal of that legislation create more demand in the economy?

There is absolutely no substance here at all.  Not one actual policy idea save for wishing.

Now, back to the basic assessment:  he said nothing that will cause him trouble and he said plenty to placate the base.  He leaves the convention with a modest poll bounce, but he now has to weather the DNC.  Quite frankly, not much has changed and there is no new, honed attack to take on the campaign trail.  Ask yourself:  what happened this week that would cause someone on the fence to change their minds?  What is even the theme of this campaign save for “I, Mitt Romney, am not Barack Obama.  I was a businessman.  Jobs are good?”

Hence:  C+/B-.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. The only observation I’d make is that this is a speech at a political convention speech, not the State of the Union. Typically, they have never been full of details or policy proposals. It’s usually about what George H.W. Bush called “the vision thing.”

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Did he need to do more? Do you think the president will get a big bounce from the DNC?

  3. Brutalfacts says:

    It did not move the needle or change the dynamic. It was an extended high profile stump speech, nothing more.

    All it did is tee it up for Clinton/Obama next week. I suspect the reaction of the pundits now (mildly supportive) will change to wholly inadequate by this time next week.

  4. MBunge says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Typically, they have never been full of details or policy proposals.”

    But campaigns always have heaps of policy statements and position papers one can refer to when they are mentioned in rhetoric. Where are Mitt’s? Where are the numbers? Bush the Elder was slightly infamous for running a particularly vacuous campaign in 1992. Want to bet that you could still find more hard, specific policy proposals from that year than what we’re getting from Mitt today?

    Mike

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    We’ll see in the polling 48 hours or so from now whether Mr. Romney had to do more. Pulling numbers out of the air I’d guess he’d jump 3 points.

    And yes, I do think Mr. Obama will get a bounce. I think he’ll take back whatever Romney’s bounce is and we’ll head onward in a static two point race.

  6. @Doug Mataconis:

    The only observation I’d make is that this is a speech at a political convention speech, not the State of the Union.

    I would argue that if you are going to make the case that you should replace the sitting president that you need to make some sort of argument for that change.

  7. anjin-san says:

    My take on all this is that neither the Ryan pick or the GOP convention has altered the dynamic of the race – and that is not good for team Romney.

  8. @Dave Schuler:

    Did he need to do more? Do you think the president will get a big bounce from the DNC?

    I think Obama will get at least as much of a bounce from a week of focus on him than Romney got from a similar week of focus.

    I don’t see how this week helps Romney win any of the swing states. What is the argument after this week that was not already in the air last week? Is there even an argument in this campaign that is for Romney save that he was a businessman?

  9. Scott F. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    So what was “the vision thing” offered in this convention speech? Did you hear something visionary beyond “I, Mitt Romney, am not Barack Obama. I was a businessman. Jobs are good?”

  10. @Steven L. Taylor:

    No doubt, but when you’ve only got a half hour you do that with broad visionary strokes, not policy specifics. I dare say I don’t recall any acceptance speech that dived heavily into policy.

  11. @MBunge:

    To be fair, there are a host of policy papers and other such material that the Romney campaign has released. I’m not talking about the merits of the policies, though, I’m talking about the speech itself and what it’s purpose is.

  12. @Doug Mataconis: I am not talking about a policy briefing, I am talking about an argument for why he should be president that has a basis in policy, even if vaguely so.

    If this was one of a handful of chance to make a case to a large audience going into November as to why he should be elected, one would think he would try to at least sketch a case. He did not do so.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Appealing to past vagueness is no good. Each case is unique. In this case we have the Etch-A-Sketch candidate, notorious for flip-flopping, notorious for having no core. So he needed specifics just to convince people he had some sort of plan, something he would stick to, something he actually believed in.

    Two things settled about Mitt Romney: He’s personally off-putting and he’s devoid of core beliefs aside from Mormonism. He needed to change both those narratives. It doesn’t sound as if he put either to rest.

  14. Scott F. says:

    Steven –

    There is absolutely no substance here at all. Not one actual policy idea save for wishing.

    I’ve been asking this wherever I can, so I’ll ask you, too. Why is this? It’s been like this the entire campaign.

    Assuming the Romney people have policy ideas (granted a big assumption in the absence of evidence otherwise), why don’t they articulate them? Does the Romney campaign have so little faith in their policy ideas that they don’t want to defend them?

  15. al-Ameda says:

    Your grade is tougher than I would give – I had it at B- to B.

    I also believe that it played differently to the audience at the convention than it did to the televised audience across America. Now, Clint Eastwood as the lead in to Romney might have been a lot of fun for the delegates, but it really came across awkwardly on television. It was a decidedly poor introduction for Romney. Eastwood took the energy and anticipation level down.

    Unfortunately for Romney, I would guess that today as many people are talking about Eastwood’s performance than are talking about Romney’s speech.

  16. @Steven L. Taylor:

    I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I think the entire theme of the convention addressed that point. In any case, I’ll submit that in two weeks nobody will remember the substance of this speech, or Obama’s. We’ll be in the heat of the campaign and people will be paying attention to what the candidates are saying then.

  17. @al-Ameda:

    Your grade is tougher than I would give

    I have, at times, been accused of being a harsh grader 😉

    I also believe that it played differently to the audience at the convention than it did to the televised audience across America.

    Yes, but he already has the folks on the floor. It is everybody else that he needs.

  18. @Doug Mataconis:

    I’ll submit that in two weeks nobody will remember the substance of this speech, or Obama’s

    In that case, Obama wins. Which is what I assume is going to happen. If no one can remember what Romney says or why they should vote for him, then he loses. And this has been the way the campaign has been going for months. Romney is not making a clear, active case for himself.

  19. Jr says:

    Doug is right that convention speeches are nothing more then Cotten candy, I expect Obama to very do the same, but his is likely going to be better since he is a much better orator then Mitt.

    The problem however, is Romney hasn’t given any details prior to the convention and he has had 2 years to do so.

    He is simply running as “Not-Obama” and that isn’t going to work IMO. CNN had a independent think group who watch the speech. And apparently they believed Romney attack’s were weak and weren’t very informative. And the bigger news is they couldn’t find any woman who liked the speech.

    Barring some major event, this election is looking close to be done.

  20. al-Ameda says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    No doubt, but when you’ve only got a half hour you do that with broad visionary strokes, not policy specifics. I dare say I don’t recall any acceptance speech that dived heavily into policy.

    I agree with you Doug, an acceptance speech that goes heavily into specifics is going to put people to sleep. Specifics are be spelled out (or smoked out) in the campaign. A candidate has to somehow capture the moment – as JFK or Reagan did – it’s easier said than done. Romney gave a solid pedestrian performance, however I think he was harmed (or done no favors) by Eastwoods clunker.

  21. michael reynolds says:

    He can’t talk much about policy specifics because the policy is: Xerox George W. Bush.

    He has no policy because the Republican Party is out of ideas. They ran out of ideas a long time ago, now they’re just desperately reiterating long-discredited shibboleths. In fairness the Democrats aren’t much better.

    And there’s a good reason for this: presidents don’t really control the economy. Not in the real world. Presidents control foreign policy and they have an impact on social policy, tax rates, etc… but the economy — which is now truly global — is not under the control of the POTUS or even much influenced by the POTUS.

    Every four years we run an election predicated on it being “the economy, stupid,” and I just don’t think that’s right. Randomly raging at this or that president, or alternately welcoming as a savior this or that candidate, is nonsense. The President does not decide whether the housing bubble will pop, or whether the Euro will crash or whether some hot new technology will create jobs. The entire US government just trims around the edges, sweeps up some broken pieces, applies chewing gum and Scotch tape and prays.

    No one knows what to do. And no one could do it if they did.

  22. @al-Ameda:

    I agree with you Doug, an acceptance speech that goes heavily into specifics is going to put people to sleep.

    I am not asking for him to go “heavily into specifics” but, rather, am noting the utter lack of specifics.

  23. anjin-san says:

    I also believe that it played differently to the audience at the convention than it did to the televised audience across America.

    Romney has been playing to the base for so long it appears that is all he knows how to do. He has not been able to effectively switch his strategy out of primary mode.

  24. Dave Schuler says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I agree with your assessment about how minor a bounce Romney is likely to get. I honestly don’t know what effect the DNC will have.

    I suspect that if the president knocks the ball out of the partk, he’ll get a bounce. If he does his expected B+ job, I’m not so sure.

  25. @Steven L. Taylor:

    We’ll see, although I tend to think that will be the outcome as well. Obama, meanwhile has the unenviable task of having to give his speech the night before the August jobs report is released. Guess which one is likely to get the most attention on Friday?

  26. Cycloptichorn says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Guess which one is likely to get the most attention on Friday?

    His speech will. The jobs report comes out every month, and every month it’s been predicted that this will be some sort of death knell for Obama’s campaign. So far, that hasn’t happened. Whether or not he can help seal the deal with a good convention performance is far more important than one month’s job numbers.

  27. JKB says:

    Would you feel better if the speech had been all unicorns and fairy dust policy pronouncements like Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech? Here’s Jame’s post on that speech;

    Barack Obama’s nomination acceptance speech, arguing that, despite all the talk of “change,” it was basically a speech that Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, or John Kerry could have given.

    Oh and here is some comedy gold policy from that speech:

    …but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off and look after a sick kid without losing her job, an economy that honors the dignity of work.

    Don’t people start new businesses every day in this country? And isn’t his party the one that wants to erect regulatory barriers making it harder to start new businesses? For that matter, don’t waitresses get days off already? I’m pretty sure they do.
    Implicit in this sentence, though, are the inherent contradictions in Democratic domestic policy. The more mandates we put on small businesses, the harder it is for them to succeed.

  28. Dazedandconfused says:

    I give him a B too,

    However, this is largely because I believe the truth is something that can not be spoken:

    “You should elect me because, as a Republican, I will be much more able to end the fear-mongering, the intransigence, and the gross abuse of the filibuster than Obama can ever hope to be. My policy’s will not be significantly different, but with a Congress not dedicated to stop everything I suggest, I will be able to do them.”

  29. MM says:

    @Jr:

    And the bigger news is they couldn’t find any woman who liked the speech.

    Well, the section that Dr. Taylor highlighted above was almost certainly shoehorned into the speech after the Akin controversy. It’s just a few sentences and then a laundry list, which really isn’t going to resonate.

    “Women like Kelly Ayotte, Nikki Haley, bacon, eggs, wash, rinse, spin”

  30. MM says:

    @anjin-san:

    Romney has been playing to the base for so long it appears that is all he knows how to do. He has not been able to effectively switch his strategy out of primary mode.

    To be fair, there was very little Primary style red meat in his speech, aside from the “we need an American” line and the line about supporting the dignity of marriage.

    Really, what Romney is going to run on is to be so unbelievably vague and platitudinous that the voter will just automatically paint in their own opinions as what Romney plans to do. I mean, look at the word cloud from his speech last night, it boils down to “As an American I love America and want to see things be better for the Americans I love.”

  31. mattb says:

    @Steven,

    To your broader point, and your score, Romney’s speech largely reminded me of Kerry’s in 2004 — though arguably Romney’s was better executed.

    As with Eastwood immediately before him, the general tone was “Obama hasn’t done a good job” not “I’m going to do a much better job” or “here is where I’m oh such much different.”

    Perhaps that will be enough this time around, given the economy. But, to your point, as it a prize fight, the tie usually goes to the reigning champ.

  32. rudderpedals says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    “You should elect me because, as a Republican, I will be much more able to end the fear-mongering, the intransigence, and the gross abuse of the filibuster than Obama can ever hope to be. My policy’s will not be significantly different, but with a Congress not dedicated to stop everything I suggest, I will be able to do them.”

    I think that’s backwards. Reelecting the president removes the senate’s incentive to block everything while a Romney in his first term presents a choice target for obstruction.

  33. sam says:

    What’s the take on the really scary part of the speech:

    [E]very American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat.

    In his first TV interview as president, [President Obama] said we should talk to Iran. We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.

    President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus, even as he has relaxed sanctions on Castro’s Cuba. He abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election. Under my administration, our friends will see more loyalty, and Mr. Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone.

    We will honor America’s democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world. This is the bipartisan foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And under my presidency we will return to it once again.

    Wonder how much Shelly Adelson really paid for that?

  34. Stonetools says:

    Rortybomb over at the New New Deal analyzed the speech and noted that its proposals we’re same as those offered by John McCain in 2008 and by GWB in 2002 and 2004. Even the bellicose tone toward Russia sounds like a copy and paste out of a Reagan speech. There was really nothing that was aimed at helping the #1 issue among voters: unemployment . Romney talked about jobs, but nothing he offered helps the unemployment rate in the short term.
    It’s clear that the Republicans have no plans for moving the economy toward full employment- none. I note btw that Bernanke today agin called fr Congressional action to stimulate the economy. However, the Republicans aren’t going to do anything before the election nd may never do anything for ideological reasons.
    What about Romney’s plan to replace Obamacare? Nothing.
    What about Afghanistan ? Nothing.
    The Middle East? War with Iran, and anything Netenyahu says, but otherwise nothing.
    China? Maybe a trade war.
    The rest of the world? Nothing. May as well not exist.

    All that sums up the entire universe of Romney’s policy. It’s pretty weak sauce.

  35. bill says:

    some people need a charismatic leader to make them feel better. i prefer a leader who will actually do something about our problems.

  36. al-Ameda says:

    @bill:

    some people need a charismatic leader to make them feel better. i prefer a leader who will actually do something about our problems.

    Why not reduce the top tax rate from 34% to 25%, increasing defense spending, all while (according to his own numbers) running deficits as large as the one we have today, for at least another decade.

    That is the Romney “solution.”

  37. @bill:

    some people need a charismatic leader to make them feel better. i prefer a leader who will actually do something about our problems.

    Speaking for myself, charisma is not what I am asking for. However, I am interesting in an actual debate and plan beyond simply declaring that we will have jobs and energy independence because, well, because.

  38. Ben Wolf says:

    @JKB:

    For that matter, don’t waitresses get days off already? I’m pretty sure they do.

    Don’t be foolish. In right to work states any person who takes a day off, for whatever reason, runs the risk of being fired for it.

  39. Neil Hudelson says:

    Before a candidate for POTUS enters his/her convention, the public should be well aware of what type of person s/he is, and have an idea of a few specific policies. I don’t think anyone was confused in 2008 that Obama:

    a. was a charismatic, energetic, progressive politician.
    b. had a tough early life but through his academic prowess, hard work, and yes ability to use connections, succeeded.
    c. That he was inexperienced as an executive, but that he had strong, specific ideas on:
    -Improving access to healthcare
    -Reducing our energy dependence (which, sad to say, he has not worked towards)
    -Strengthening our presence in Iraq, leaving Afghanistan
    -A foreign policy view of engagement first (which has only been implemented about 50% of the time)

    John McCain walked into his convention with the public understanding that he was:
    a. An experienced statesman
    b. A warhero
    c. A politician who was not afraid to buck his own party and work across the aisle
    d. Had strong ideas on how to open foreign markets to our farmers
    e. Was a war hawk who believed a stronger, active military was the key to a lasting peace
    f. Was interested in implementing education reforms based on merit pay, reforming the tenure system, and implementing a voucher system.

    This was clear to everyone who paid even a little bit of attention.

    By contrast, Romney had to go into his convention still trying to explain to the public who he was. I’m not necessarily blaming him for this. He’s ran a poor campaign, but he’s also gotten a lot of crappy breaks. Akin’s comments breaking just a few days after the VP announcement? Primary opponents who were batsh*t crazy and sucked up all the spotlight? A tropical storm delaying his convention? While he’s had a lot of unforced errors, he’s had a lot of bad breaks that have constantly hampered his efforts to educate the voters about who he is as a person.

    Nonetheless, thems the breaks. Instead of introducing what his presidency would be, he had to introduce who he is as a person for much of his speech.

    Obama, by contrast, has ample time for he and all of his surrogates to spin what a rosy 4 years its been, and how the next 4 years are going to be better because of x, y, z.

    My biggest disgust about this campaign cycle has been team Obama’s lack of proposals on what the next 4 years will be under their continued leadership. If Obama is smart, he’ll use the convention to do what Romney could not–lay out a grand plan for the 2012 to 2016. If that happens, yeah, I think we’ll see a much bigger bounce.

  40. Stonetools says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    I think you very well might see Obama do this in the convention. His problem is that on the big issue-unemployment – he can’t do anything because the Republicans have successfully demagogued the only remedy that will work-another round of fiscal stimulus.
    On other. Issues like the deficit , the only solution I see is a wave election that sweeps out the Tea Party folks . We know already that they will oppose any reasonable budget deal.
    Foreign policy- heck, no one cares at this point. Get us out of Afghanistan , that’s all Americans care about now.

  41. An Interested Party says:

    He can’t talk much about policy specifics because the policy is: Xerox George W. Bush.

    This is the best counterargument to the GOP’s argument that it is time for a change…time for a change, perhaps, but a change back to the Bush years?

    some people need a charismatic leader to make them feel better. i prefer a leader who will actually do something about our problems.

    And what will Mitt Romney do about our problems? Your argument is pretty weak, even for you…

  42. Dazedandconfused says:

    @rudderpedals:
    Maybe.

    My opinion is the Republicans sense of entitlement to power has progressed too far for that. They will prevent any success that can be attributed to a Democrat which isn’t an obvious Pyrrhic victory.

  43. anjin-san says:

    For that matter, don’t waitresses get days off already? I’m pretty sure they do.

    I was in that industry for a long time. Depends on where you work. Some places will bend over backwards to make sure the staff can take care of family issues. Some will tell you your ass had better be at work if you want to keep your job, regardless of what you may be dealing with.

  44. rudderpedals says:

    @Dazedandconfused: I agree completely.

  45. Dazedandconfused says:

    @rudderpedals:

    I may have mis-understood.

    The hope I have is that a lot of these “freshmen” will evolve. A couple years of real data and real legislation floating on their desks might displace the things Glenn put in their heads. Kinda has to. I thought the debt crisis was at least partially a delaying action to allow more time for that.

    Also, I hear Cantor may be in trouble in his district. A few of these weasels getting canned this time around should clean things up a bit.

  46. matt says:

    @anjin-san: Most low paying jobs (aka waitress work) will tell you to work or never come back..

    I always found it stupid that when you first start a job at a food service place they’ll go on and on about food safety and how you shouldn’t show up to work sick. Yet when you are puking all over and in terrible shape from the flu they’ll just tell you to suck it up and get to work..