Setting the Right Tone

Aug 30, 2012 by

Tonight marks the end of the Republican National Convention, featuring many of the party’s biggest political stars, including Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, and most importantly, presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

What did the Republicans need to do this week? What has been successfully accomplished? And what do tonight’s speakers and Gov. Romney need to do to close the deal?

Going into the convention, national polls showed the Romney/Ryan ticket trailing President Obama by double digits with women and Hispanics. And so Goal No. 1: Try to close the gender and Hispanic gap.

To increase its appeal, the RNC loaded the speakers list with women and minorities. But while optically important to highlight the party’s diversity, the message remains most important. And while many speakers got the party to first base, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez knocked the ball out of the park. Both of these talented and articulate women not only appealed to the base, they also incorporated a tone that reached voters who need a reason to believe in a white-male-only ticket. Rice’s speech, without teleprompter, is widely being touted as the best in content, tone and delivery thus far.

Goal No. 2: Address the Medicare issue head-on and allay fears that the Romney/Ryan ticket will harm seniors. For while the choice of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan was a hit with the party faithful, it opened up problems with seniors on the Medicare issue and did little to grow appeal among independents.

There was tremendous pressure on Ryan to prove he was ready to step into the role of president, if necessary, and to blunt criticism that his budget and record could be a drag on the ticket with seniors and independents. His speech did not disappoint and exceeded somewhat low expectations. He not only fired up the forum with well-tested “red meat” applause lines, he refused to run from his record and addressed Medicare head-on. But while he used a warm approach — enlisting his mother and grandmother to make his point — he repeated his misleading attack on Obama’s Medicare record, which has been negatively fact-checked. He was a pit bull with a smile and the crowd loved it.

Ryan also reached out to young voters in brilliant fashion by not only painting Obama as tired and old — just four years after being elected as the youthful president — but by a good-natured ribbing of the generational divide between he and Romney through the universal language of musical preferences. While a clever speech and superb delivery, was it enough to do more than excite the base? At a minimum, Ryan became the new fresh face of the conservatives with the ability to excite the youth and seniors with his wholesome likability and steadfast conviction.

Goal No. 3: Show a human side of Romney and outline a plan that makes the case against a more likable President Obama. The perception that Romney is aloof, robotic and lacking in warmth, policy specifics and conviction has dogged the campaign for months.

When Ann Romney took the stage to the audience delight, she was instantly the darling of the party faithful. Her mission was to humanize the man she loves and adores. While she did not fully use the opportunity to paint a picture through heartwarming stories of Mitt as a husband and father, her own warmth and courage charmed the crowd. But was it enough to win over skeptical voters?

Goal No. 4: Show a greater tolerance to more moderate Republicans, independents and crossover voters, while setting a more inclusive tone. The party has been viewed as ideologically rigid, angry and obstructionist.

It was my hope that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would use his keynote address to reach out to moderates and independents and welcome them. That hope was dashed when he went into attack mode, not showing a willingness to be inclusive but rather to justify “saying no.” While a good speech for those in attendance, it did little to expand the tent. That job now falls to Bush and Rubio, who can and should focus on the positive, inclusiveness, vision and opportunity.

Condi Rice and Susanna Martinez, by contrast, did an excellent job of setting a welcoming tone. That’s the kind of optimism and positivity that Americans are hungry for.

It’s time to move away from attacks and negativity. It is critical that Romney and friends build on that progress as the convention comes to a close.

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