Three cheers, and then Mitt
Ann Romney, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie have hit the right notes as the Republican Convention builds to its climax in Florida. But will the straight-laced presidential candidate finish the job?
Today around midday, the man himself, a former Massachusetts governor and Bain Capital legend, will get his chance in Tampa, Florida.
The trio in question are Romney’s wife Ann, his running mate Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and the Republican Party’s most talented retail politician New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Ann Romney was the most effective. She was asked to humanise her husband’s stiff public image, along with contextualising the inconsistencies between his stands as the governor of a left-leaning state and a federal candidate.
It was a tough ask. Romney’s position as governor on gun control, healthcare policy and abortion are now irreconcilable with the platforms he’s taking to challenge President Barack Obama. It’s been covered to death.
Ann Romney did a good job; the speech was very well received across US media outlets.
"You may not agree with Mitt's positions on issues or his politics,” she said to the thousands of charged supporters.
"Massachusetts is only 13 per cent Republican, so it's not like that’s a shock. But let me say this to every American who is thinking about who should be our next president: No one will work harder. No one will care more.”
She added for good measure: "You can trust Mitt.”
Ryan had a more complicated brief, which he wrapped up yesterday.
He had to introduce himself as a vice presidential candidate to the Republican base on the big stage, while finding some time to defend Romney’s record at Bain and his status as a Mormon.
Tellingly, Ryan couldn’t bring himself to say the words ‘Bain’ or ‘Mormon’.
Here’s his defence of Romney’s private equity career: "We’ve had very different careers – mine mainly in public service, his mostly in the private sector. He helped start businesses and turn around failing ones. By the way, being successful in business – that’s a good thing.”
The Democrats won’t let this slide, given Romney’s apparent involvement with the firm – as he was also rescuing the Salt Lake Winter Olympics, which Ryan did address directly – while Bain was shipping jobs overseas. It’s a silly argument, but one that Ryan did little to neutralise.
On Romney’s faith, the VP nominee sought to generalise religiosity, again, not using the actual word on everybody’s lips.
"In any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example. And I’ve been watching that example. The man who will accept your nomination tomorrow is prayerful and faithful and honourable.”
He went on to reassure the conservative party that Romney won’t be a supporter of gay marriage, though he didn’t quite use those words either.
In truth, Ryan's strongest moments were not when he was talking about his running mate. Overall, the speech went down a treat.
The odd one out in this trio was undoubtedly Governor Christie and for good reason.
If Romney fails, Christie is widely acknowledged as the party’s leading figure for the next electoral cycle. His biggest rival from here would be Ryan, provided he emerged from a failed 2012 campaign unscathed, and perhaps New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who impressed the crowd immediately before the VP nominee took the stage.
Christie would like to follow the same trajectory as Obama, who blew the house down at the 2004 convention for Democratic nominee John Kerry, catapulting him into political superstardom.
A lot will happen between now and 2016. But the keynote address afforded to Christie was a nod to his ability to energise the company’s rank and file supporters. The opportunity to enhance his political brand is the reward.
"There's only one thing missing now,” said the genuinely engaging and funny Christie to a cheering convention floor. "Leadership. It takes leadership that you don't get from reading a poll. You see, Mr President – real leaders don't follow polls. Real leaders change polls.”
The problem for the conservatives is that Romney’s 'flexibility' on gun control, healthcare and abortion – to name a few – doesn't sit well with Christie’s mantra of steadiness in the face of unpopularity.
There’s also the glaring reality that Christie remains a popular figure within the party and his left-leaning state. By contrast, Romney has rarely been popular with anyone.
In fact Christie came under enormous pressure by faceless financial backers to jump into the nomination race when it was apparent that Romney was destined to secure it. He was the most notable absentee from a nomination race that could be described politely as often comical.
By and large the Tampa plan that could have been written years ago to humanise Romney and keep the economy centre stage has been adhered to pretty closely.
It’s now in the former governor’s hands to build on the groundwork laid out by his political allies.
If he does, the Republicans can only hope that a substantial number of swing voters tune in to this tedious event to see it happen.
Footnote: The US media is currently abuzz in the wake of the impressive performance (without a teleprompter) from former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who spoke about foreign policy, trade, immigration and education. While she would normally be considered a "headliner," Rice barely mentioned the Romney-Ryan ticket at all, while addressing policy areas where Obama mostly has the edge.
Alexander Liddington-Cox is Business Spectator's North America correspondent.