In a deftly crafted and perfectly pitched speech at the Republican National Convention on Friday, Mitt Romney claimed what he has assiduously sought for years: his party’s nomination as President of the United States. His speech has generated great momentum, and with it comes a seriously realistic chance at winning the Oval Office.
My apologies once again to my readers for another delay; again, I have been outmuscled by the workload incumbent upon other commitments. For once however, this may be a blessing, as polling numbers have materialised since the Republican Convention, and the Democrats’ own Convention is now underway — and we’ll come back to that, of course, if it throws up anything interesting.
But 65-year-old Mitt Romney — who joked at the outset of his speech that the playlist on his own iPod was better than that of his 42-year-old running mate, Wisconsin Senator Paul Ryan — may very well have taken his first steps toward the White House as the endgame of the 2012 presidential election gets underway.
Romney, delivering one of the best campaign speeches heard from a Republican (or anywhere else, for that matter) in years, hit all the right notes: across issues, across demographics, and ensuring strengths were emphasised and target groups directly addressed.
I might also add that whilst I have been otherwise extremely busy, I have found time to listen to this speech four times — in part so I can write about it for this column, but also because I think this was a surprisingly effective effort from someone previously regarded as a notoriously wooden speaker.
It’s true that there were very few policy specifics in Romney’s speech, and those that it did contain were light for detail. Those, however, come later, as the rough-and-tumble of the campaign builds between now and polling day on 6 November.
Yet this was more than a simple exercise in spin, much more; rather, Romney moved systematically through a virtual itemisation of every issue — real, perceived or anticipated — that affects his campaign for the Presidency, as well as taking a few devastatingly savage pot shots at Barack Obama for good measure.
Americans, Romney asserted, are a “good and generous people” who aspire to all of the freedoms the USA has to offer: freedoms of religion, of speech, in the way they live their lives, and the freedom “to build a business.”
The cynic might note that these freedoms just happen to intersect with the way Romney himself has lived, but I think his sentiments hit the right tone for the massive audience watching on prime time US television.
Romney spoke at length about the problems afflicting the US at present, interweaving these with the legacy to date of the Obama administration and — cleverly, for a man whose road to victory is primarily dependent on convincing sullen Democratic voters from 2008 that it’s time for a change — evoking the spirit of the Democrat John F. Kennedy.
Barack Obama’s promises had given way to disappointment and division, Romney said; speaking of those who voted for hope and change four years ago, Romney sarcastically commented that the best feeling many of those people had about Obama was the day they voted for him.
One of the aims of the Republican National Convention was to “humanise” Romney, a man never noted for charisma and colour, but rather widely regarded in the USA and elsewhere as a technocratic businessman with poor public communication skills.
The Convention, and this address, have gone some considerable way to addressing that; Romney spoke at length and with apparent feeling about his background, his parents and their marriage, and of his love for his wife and children. Indeed, many among his audience — particularly the women — were in tears at various stages.
The Romney speech overall, though, stripped of its sparkle and the obvious skill with which it was constructed, was an orthodox New Right platform, emphasising the primacy of family and faith, focused on small government, low taxes and strong national defences, and championing responsible economic management, nurturing business (and especially small business), and the social and constitutional conservatism typical of mainstream parties of the Right across the world, and so beloved of the core base of his Republican Party in particular.
By extension — and without mention — it neutralised the volatile “Tea Party” faction within the Republican Party, in much the same way John Howard used “inclusion” as a tactic by which to neutralise the Pauline Hanson factor in Australia in the late 1990s.
And there were some clear, straightforward messages from the Romney speech that give clues to the agenda Republican strategists clearly believe will win their man the day on 6 November.
In an echo of Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid!” slogan of 1992, Romney said that “What is needed in America is not complicated or profound: what America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs.”
For a man reputed to be worth some US$300 million, Romney spoke with great sincerity and credibility of the worker who lost their job “on $22.50 per hour with benefits…who took two jobs at $9 per hour,” and in a clear jab at Obama, stressed that the USA is a country “that celebrates success…we do not apologise for success.”
Of Barack Obama — lamenting the President’s lack of any meaningful business experience — Romney disparagingly remarks that “To (Obama), jobs are about government.”
Many Americans, Romney says, “have given up on this President” but they haven’t given up.
Warming to his theme, Romney states that Obama’s policies on industry will send jobs to China, and that Obama’s proposed cuts to the US military will eliminate “hundreds of thousands of jobs and put American security at greater risk.”
And Romney says, of voters who believe the past is brighter than the future in America, that he can guarantee that if Obama is re-elected, they’ll be right.
And on it went.
Perhaps the two most urgent issues to address — Romney’s religion, as a Mormon, and his alleged image problem with women votes — were well handled.
Romney spoke at some length about the women in his life, professionally and personally, and made it obvious that he was no Mormon misogynist; “Why should women have less say than men about the great decisions facing our nation?” he cried.
And on the matter of his religion, Romney deftly neutered the issue, arguing that people of all faiths sought the support and comfort and strength of their faiths — a much more universal truth in the US than in Australia — and even managed to joke at his own expense on this score, recounting an anecdote whose punchline held that a colleague of Romney’s, belonging to the American equivalent of the Church of England, was far cleverer and smarter than Romney was himself.
In the few days since Romney’s speech, opinion polls in the US have swung his way; on average, what had until last week been a lead of about five percentage points in favour of Barack Obama has since given way to a statistical dead heat.
It’s highly possible, of course, that Obama will receive a similar polling boost of his own on the back of the Democratic Party’s Convention, now underway; as I said at the outset, we’ll keep an eye on that and revisit it if anything interesting comes of it.
But the reality is that Obama is now rightly decried as a disappointment by many of his own disillusioned supporters, and openly ridiculed as an unreconstructed socialist and a fraud by virtually everyone in the Republican Party, and by most of that portion of the American electorate inclined to support it.
In a poignant penultimate remark — delivered deadpan, amid hoots of derisive laughter from his audience — Romney solemnly intoned that “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans…and to heal the planet.
“My promise is to help you and your family.”
In the final analysis, it’s as simple as that.
With the environmental movement starting to falter — as it did 20 years ago, after its initial zenith in the late 1980s — it is, once again, all about the economy.
And that’s why Romney may well have inflicted the killer blow in his speech at the weekend.