The Speech Of Mitt Romney’s Political Life

Tonight's convention speech is the most important speech Mitt Romney has ever given.

Tonight, Mitt Romney will take the stage at the Tampa Bay Times Arena to accept the Republican nomination for President and to deliver what is, without question, the most important speech of his entire political career:

 TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) – Mitt Romney faces a critical test in his White House bid on Thursday when he addresses the Republican National Convention, an opportunity to convince millions of Americans that he can forge a path to economic rebirth and provide better leadership than President Barack Obama.

It will be Romney’s biggest television audience to date as much of the nation tunes in, giving some voters their first extended look at the 65-year-old former Massachusetts governor who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in 2008.

Romney, who can often come across as stiff, faces the challenge of making Americans feel more comfortable with him.

He has a hard act to follow after the ringing “you can trust Mitt” endorsement delivered by his wife, Ann, on Tuesday night, a speech that was widely viewed as one of the most significant ever given by an aspiring first lady.

Romney has some inherent advantages in his race against Obama. He is topping the Democrat in campaign donations, and the weakness of the U.S. economy, with a staggering 8.3 percent unemployment rate, gives him a lethal argument for change.

Even so, Romney is far from closing the deal. It is unclear whether his economic proposals for tax cuts and deregulation of industries would rekindle growth and keep taxpayers dollars flowing into the Treasury to pay for expensive government entitlement programs, such as the Medicare health insurance program for seniors, which he wants to reform.

Romney’s convention speech offers him a chance to break through the blizzard of negative television ads about him.

Republican delegates at the Tampa convention recommended Romney be himself in his speech, talk about his background as a businessman and Olympic organizer, and offer a way forward.

New York State Senator Mike Nozzolio said Romney needs to explain to voters in an understandable way that he is “competent, directed, focused, and can make the message appeal to folks around the kitchen table.

“He’s going to be the guest of millions of Americans in their living rooms, and this is a wonderful opportunity for people to understand what he knows and where he wants to take us,” Nozzolio said.

NBC News’s First Read lays out fairly succinctly what Romney needs to accomplish:

If tonight’s speech is to be successful, Romney has to meet four objectives. One, he has to better introduce himself to the American public; it remains striking that after running for president for much of the past five years, voters still don’t have more than a two-dimensional understanding of the soon-to-be nominee. Two, he needs to convince the public that, while he looks the part, he’s the man Americans are comfortable seeing on their TVs for the next four years. Three, he has to try to close the empathy gap; our most recent NBC/WSJ poll found President Obama holding a 22-point advantage on who cares more about average people. And four, he needs to put some meat on the policy bone to make the case how his plans could actually work better than Obama’s — and how they are different from the past Republican administration. If four hours are going to decide this presidential election, the first hour comes tonight.

The “four hours,” of course, is a reference to tonight’s speech and the three Presidential debates that start on October 3rd, each of which will be vitally important for Romney to make a case for his candidacy to the American people. At National Journal, though, Charlie Cook argues that tonight’s speech may well be more important for Romney than the debates:

As in 1980, voters today are open to the suggestion of firing the president. And, like 32 years ago, the Republican challenger has not yet crossed a crucial threshold. But unlike Reagan in 1980, Romney’s challenge isn’t about his intellect or command of issues, hurdles that he can easily clear with a strong debate performance. Romney’s test is more personal. Voters began this week feeling like they didn’t know him. For whatever reason, his campaign is just now getting around to attempting to establish a personal connection between Romney and the public. That connection cannot be made in a debate; the format doesn’t lend itself to it.

Romney desperately needs to leave Tampa having created that relationship. Ann Romney’s speech was a start, but tonight, Romney has to do the connecting himself. Those wavering Republican-leaning independents, along with the pure independents and Democrats disaffected with Obama and the economy, need to feel more comfortable about Romney the person before they trust him with their votes. President Obama’s campaign and allied groups have done a masterful job of raising doubts about the GOP nominee. Romney needs to connect enough to earn the benefit of the doubt from voters. Tonight isn’t about a pitch to be president of the high school class. It isn’t a popularity or likability contest, but it is about clearing a threshold.

Reid Wilson, meanwhile, says that Romney needs to fill in the missing pieces that still exist in his public image:

In a Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll released on Wednesday, just 28 percent of respondents offered a positive response when asked to describe Romney in a single word. More than four in 10 used a negative term — “liar,” “arrogant,” “crook,” and “out of touch” among the most common — and 30 percent used a neutral term.

In an election that is rapidly becoming a choice between two rival visions rather than a referendum on Obama’s record, party strategists think Romney needs to change that equation. Romney’s prime-time speech, they said, should offer both an introduction of the former Massachusetts governor as a person, and an overview of his plans as president.

In short, Romney must answer the “who” and the “why.”

(…)

Romney “needs to show passion, not anger or arrogance, but the passion to fix our nation,” said David Carney, the New Hampshire Republican operative who led Texas Gov. Rick Perry‘s presidential campaign. “He needs to project empathy for the plight of millions of Americans looking for someone who understands their problems. This is hard; it’s not pandering or mouthing lines of sympathy. One does not to have experienced having your home going up in flames to show empathy for your neighbors who’ve lost their home in a house fire.”

“Our research shows that swing voters are very receptive to positive information about Romney. But he needs to tell the personal Romney story even more than present the Romney plan,” said Steve Law, president of American Crossroads. “If he does that, Romney can wipe off a lot of the mud that’s been thrown at him and connect with voters.”

Much of this, of course, goes to the problem that Romney has had since the General Election began in April, the fact that his favorability numbers are badly trailing those of President Obama. In a poll taken just before the convention started, for example, Romney’s favorable/unfavorable numbers stood at 35/51, actually down from earlier in the month, while President Obama’s stood at 50/44. Further evidence of the likability gap in this race can be seen in a Gallup poll released this morning which shows Romney leading Obama when it comes to economic issues, but trailing on the likability questions. The fact that Romney remains essentially tied with the President in national polls, and competitive in pretty much all of the swing states, despite this likability problems is, I think, and indication of the fact that the voters really are dissatisfied with the job that the President has done, and the state of the economy. The fact that he has yet to really break through against the President either at the national or the swing-state level despite all the indications that voters are pessimistic about the state of the economy and the country and that they generally give Romney hire grades on the economy than Obama is an indication of just how serious the likability problem is. Despite all the bad news, Mitt Romney risks losing the election simply because the voters never became comfortable with the idea of him being President. That’s why tonight is so important.

Convention speeches have known to change the narrative of a race before. George H.W. Bush’s 1988 speech to the Republican Convention in New Orleans is widely credited with turning around a race that had been going against the Republican Vice-President for most of the summer and helping to erase a 17-point pre-convention polling advantage that Michael Dukakis had held. By the time that convention was over, the polling was completely reversed and Bush was the clear frontrunner all the way to Election Day. Four years later, Bill Clinton’s Acceptance Speech about “a place called Hope” was instrumental in giving his campaign the momentum it needed to hold off President Bush and Ross Perot and eke out a victory on Election Day. President Obama’s own speech four years ago in Denver was a point at which a race that had seemed like it was going to be competitive started slipping away from the Republican ticket. So, it’s entirely possible that Romney will be able to pull the same thing off before. He’s given excellent speeches before. His 2007 speech and the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library on religion and politics was highly regarded at the time, and remains so to this day. More recently, his speeches after winning many of the Republican primaries were also quite highly regarded. Now, he has to pull off something even better tonight and hope that it will be enough to give his campaign the momentum it needs.

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    Oooooo….it’s so exciting…so much at stake…I can barely wait for the lying to begin!!!
    Can he top Ryan? It’s a high bar.

  2. Brutalfacts says:

    Regardless of what Romney does tonight (and I don’t expect much) Obama gets to refute next week before a bigger audiance. What Romeny going to do, offer specifics (doubtful), humor (really…gaff alert!), or just try to run up the score with angry white males (dog whistles anyone)?

    This election is entering the 8th inning with the GOP down one run, GOP has two deceptive pitchers to close and still needs to score. Democrats will close with two fireballers Clinton and Obama. Game over.

  3. Kinky Beats says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I’m crossing my fingers that he starts out with his rendition of “America the Beautiful”.

  4. al-Ameda says:

    I wonder if he’ll wear his Mom Jeans and read from a teleprompter?

  5. MBunge says:

    Anybody remember Bob Dole’s convention speech in 1996? It was a great speech but the answer is no, right? That’s because while it was beautifully written and well delivered, it had absolutely no connection to Dole’s voice, personality or even what his campaign was trying to be about. That’s the kind of speech we’re going to get tonight, except Mitt has all the gravitas of a springer spaniel.

    Mike

  6. anjin-san says:

    We will see. I think Mitt’s inherent lightness of weight will work against him.

  7. stonetools says:

    I expect Romney will go to 11 on the lies.

    “He needs to project empathy for the plight of millions of Americans looking for someone who understands their problems.

    I think it would be impossible for Mitt to even FAKE empathy, much less show true empathy.

  8. anjin-san says:

    Nate Silver has Obama trending up over the last few days, and Romney moving south. The next 3 days will be interesting. If the Ryan pick and the convention produce no real traction, what moves does team Romney have left? They can’t be all that optimistic about the debates.

  9. MBunge says:

    @anjin-san: “Nate Silver has Obama trending up over the last few days, and Romney moving south.”

    If that actually reflects the reaction of the public to the convention, I think the blame would have to go to the GOP largely failing to even pretend they’ve got any answers to the economy. The party, or at least the Romney campaign, seems to possess just enough self-awareness to know they can’t simply repeat the same crap they’ve been saying for the last 30 years. At least not with the cratering of the Bush II years still fresh. Yet, they’re clearly afraid of saying anything new or different on the economy for fear of offending the base or, more likely, pissing off big money donors.

    Mike

  10. Jr says:

    Romney actually has to set out a vision for America.

    And seeing how his campaign are running a “you can trust me really!” campaign, I doubt we get much substance from Mitt tonight.

  11. J-Dub says:

    I predict that most of his speech tonight will consist of trashing President Obama, mostly with lies. It will not be a positive message and will not inspirational to anyone but the far right.

  12. sam says:

    What’s the over and under that it’ll be more Cleon than Pericles?

  13. JKB says:

    Quick let’s have a contest. Which inane factoid will the Left and punditocracy obsess over tomorrow like they are the Janesville GM plant today.

    Anything to distract from the reality of the economy. I know, Obama can have Reddit conference while 23 million people drown in unemployment.

  14. swbarnes2 says:

    @J-Dub:

    I predict that most of his speech tonight will consist of trashing President Obama, mostly with lies. It will not be a positive message and will not inspirational to anyone but the far right.

    There might be a fair amount of “I’m a white guy, and I’m going to take back America from all those unAmerican brown people”.

    That’s a positive message, for white guys.

  15. David M says:

    @JKB:

    Quick let’s have a contest. Which inane factoid will the [Romney/Ryan and the GOP lie about] tomorrow like they are the Janesville GM plant today.

    Anything to distract from the reality of the economy. I know, [maybe they can hold another vote to repeal Obamacare ] while 23 million people drown in unemployment.

    FIFY

  16. Tsar Nicholas says:

    I actually laughed out loud while reading the Reuters article.

    It only took them 2 grafs to manage to put in “unsuccessfully” in reference to Romney and of course they managed to tell the young idiot blocs within the same graf that, eeew, Romney is old enough to be your grandfather, Sparky.

    The 3rd graf is priceless. No agenda there, eh? Geez.

    In any case, let’s not all smoke from the media’s crack pipe. Sure, it’s an important speech. But a large majority of the voting electorate either won’t see it, or won’t remember it, or won’t really care about it, in the sense of deciding or not deciding for whom to vote.

    Democrats in November will be voting for Obama. Republicans in November will be voting for Romney. A small but material portion of the registered electorate won’t vote, for one reason or another. Independents and other non-partisans will decide the outcome, but largely based upon their wallets and their pocketbooks, not speeches and certainly not media spin cycles.

  17. C. Clavin says:

    2 days into a 3 day Convention.
    The reaction to Day One was that Christie kicked off his ’16 Campaign…and Ann Romney is a Corporate Wife. A nice Corporate Wife…but a Corporate Wife.
    The reaction to Day Two is that Paul Ryan is a bald-faced liar…and Condaleeza Rice, of 9.11 and Iraq and Afghanistan fame, is a Republican Foreign Policy Star.
    It’s pretty hard to see how Romney is going to be able to do anything to erase the mediocre response to the Convention so far. But maybe he’ll walk to the podium with a dog strapped to his head.

  18. MBunge says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “Independents and other non-partisans will decide the outcome, but largely based upon their wallets and their pocketbooks, not speeches and certainly not media spin cycles.”

    This “all that matters is the fundamentals” spin is popular with some, but it flies in the face of what happened in 2008. Go back and look at the polls and connect them to the financial collapse just before the election. It’s fairly clear that it was McCain’s incredibly bad response to that crisis which pushed Obama permanently into the lead.

    Mike

  19. Brutalfacts says:

    I think what is being missed is that prospective Romney votes, and even soft Romney votes may have been lost already this week. Ryan’s speech did Romney no favors as it has placed a spotlight squarely on the factual basis of any claims he may make about Obama.

    I may be wrong but I sense that this week may end up sealing it for Obama. When faced with a guy that you disagree with but you know, even like, you may vote for him just because the alternative is too risky. Romney has only solidified himself as the risky alternative with Ryan’s dishonest speech, McCain beating the drums for war and his own failure to offer a vision or specifics.

    Anger can only get you so far. Even angry white guys have moments of clarity

  20. Herb says:

    Now, he has to pull off something even better tonight and hope that it will be enough to give his campaign the momentum it needs.

    And football fans from coast to coast will read about it tomorrow morning. There’s a whole slew of preseason finales from 6pm all the way up to 11pm. Seeing as the casual observer cares way more about sports than politics, I suspect there will be some divided attentions tonight.

  21. C. Clavin says:
  22. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Herb: Definitely. Most of my office is talking football today, not politics.

  23. Fiona says:

    I suspect that, as with W, the bar is set pretty low and that if Romney is able to generate the appearance of at least some degree of humanity tommorow’s media reports will indicate that he did a great job. I’m just not sure he’s capable of generating any warmth.

    I’d also bet that the speech is pretty idea free because if Romney actually laid bare the implications of his tax plan and seemingly aggressive foreign policy, most independents would recoil in horror.

  24. al-Ameda says:

    If Romney tells the voters that what he want to do is cut taxes, increase spending, and run annual deficits of the magnitude we have now for the next ten years, and eviscerate Medicare, then he’s toast. So I expect glib platitudes, cliches, and “trust us, we’re Republicans.”

    Then it’s on to Charlotte for setting the record straight and reminding America that the GOP left us with the 2008 crash, and basically what’s in Romney’s plan is what got us to that point.

  25. Herb says:

    News you can use: The Packers just beat the Chiefs. Houston’s beating Minnesota. Indy’s beating Cinci. The Steelers have a point on the Panthers.

    Has Mitt Romney started his speech yet?