A Political Storm? Or Shelter Under a Big Tent?

Aug 23, 2012 by

With the Republican National Convention set to kick off in just a few days, the party faithful are flocking to Tampa in the hopes of rallying the base and getting a bounce in the polls.

The host city of Tampa has rolled out the red carpet and the gracious people of Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties have offered their homes and businesses to convention-goers, while many others have left for well-timed vacations to help reduce the traffic. While we had hoped for Chamber of Commerce weather, we cautiously watch Tropical Storm Isaac.

What can we expect to come of this mega-event?

Economically, the RNC is expected to pump millions of dollars into the local economy with the hope that it will help many of our struggling small businesses.

Politically, it is an opportunity for the Republican Party to deliver its message on a national stage with thousands of credentialed media looking for any and all angles to cover. With presidential candidate Mitt Romney trailing in the polls, and this pre-convention week dominated by stories of skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee and “legitimate rape,” the pressure is on for the party to put its best foot forward.

The selection of Paul Ryan as the number two on the ticket has energized the base. Gov. Romney was losing favor with the hard-core conservatives who were somewhat mistrustful from the start. A candidate generally appeals to the base in the primary and starts moving to the middle for the general election.

Due to many factors — a grueling primary, a candidate perceived as stiff, unrelenting attention on the release of tax returns, and the massive blitz of hard-hitting campaign ads by President Obama and his supporters — Romney was not as solid with the base as he needed to be.

Additionally, the Republican Party base is more complicated and fractured than in the past. The party has moved to the right on both economic and social issues to accommodate various well-organized factions.

Enter Congressman Paul Ryan, a young, likable policy wonk with impeccable social-policy credentials to calm the fears of the religious right. It was a bold choice that bears some risk. Unfortunately, Romney was not in the position to go safe or move to the middle for fear the base would stay home.

Since Ryan joined Romney, the Republican base has indeed been energized, as evidenced by the large crowds turning out and the enthusiasm appearing on social media. The base is not the only energized force; there seems to be a major transformation of Gov. Romney. He seems at ease with himself and with his running mate. He smiles, laughs and seems more human, more emotional. They look like father and son on the campaign trail and it is being well received visually.

Ryan also adds specifics to a campaign that was lacking in detail. But with that comes some risks with some of his policy initiatives regarding the budget, Medicare and abortion. Congressman Akin, candidate for U.S. Senate from Missouri, opened the floodgates with his comments about “legitimate rape” while discussing his position against abortion even in the case of rape, a position shared by Congressman Ryan and that is being considered as a plank in the GOP platform. This is further widening the gender gap.

The question to be answered by the convention, through the lineup of speakers representing the range of political ideology, does the message delivered appeal to a vast array of voters or will it be red meat for the party faithful?

If this election is one of energizing the base and securing a win based on turning out the party faithful, we will hear very little talk of working together with a shared vision. Compromise will continue to be a dirty word. Instead the speeches will be geared toward attacking the opponent and rallying the cheers and energy of those present.

The speakers will be on the world stage and will have the opportunity to present a vision, to unite a divided nation, to welcome moderates, independents and conservative Democrats into the fold.

There are a few key speakers to watch to see if there is an effort to expand the shrinking tent and welcome voters who don’t pass the litmus test of the social agenda. These individuals have spoken of tolerance, inclusiveness and common sense.

All eyes and ears will be on Governors Jeb Bush and Chris Christie and Senator John McCain. What they say and how it is received can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of this election and the direction of the Republican Party.

The most important speech, of course, will be Governor Romney’s and the tone will be every bit as important as the content.

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