Mitt Romney's speech closing out the Republican National Convention on Thursday night was the most important of his political life. He had to check a lot of boxes: For starters, he needed to energize the Republicans watching in the Tampa Bay Times Forum, fire up those watching on TV at home, narrow the yawning gender and likability gaps with President Obama, and convince voters who like Obama, but not his record, that it's alright to vote for a Republican this time. To do that, Romney opened up a bit about his family and his experience as a Mormon, pledged to create 12 million jobs, and threw several tough jabs at Obama. Among his best lines: "Hope and change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I'd ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn't you feel that way now that he's President Obama? You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he's done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him." (Watch highlights of the speech below.) Here, six talking points about Romney's make-or-break speech:
1. Romney gave a good speech — but not a great one
Romney isn't a naturally gifted speaker, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post, but he "did what he needed to do in his speech, a workman-like address where he made a strong case against the current incumbent and a slightly-less-strong case for himself." Sure, Romney was "mechanically flawless," and he had some "well-crafted zingers," says Matt Latimer at The Daily Beast. But don't believe the inevitable batch of over-hyped reviews "like 'ten strike,' 'home run,' [or] 'out of the park.'" Of course Romney "didn't rock the rafters, but that's not his style," says Will Wilkinson at The Economist. What he did do is "make himself emotionally present," and make his case "as clearly and forcefully as he ever has." Perhaps that will "be good enough" to win, but regardless, "I don't think he has it in him to do much better."
2. He may have won some new supporters
Romney's speech largely pleased the Tampa crowd, says Rich Lowry at Fox News. But its real goal was to win the trust of "the TV audience beyond its walls, and especially to voters disappointed with President Obama but not outraged by him." In that sense, Romney delivered. "After this speech, you might not fervently believe in him, but you might hire him." Yes, Romney's speech, and his "pleasant convention,... may benefit him marginally," says Marc Ambinder at GQ. But if he wants to win the swing vote, and thus the election, "he will need a much bigger moment," something to show he has a spine and deserves our trust. "That's not going to come from a speech," no matter how well delivered.
3. Mostly, he pitched himself as a "generic Republican"
This "prudent" speech sure wasn't from the risk-taking Romney who tapped the polarizing Paul Ryan as his running mate, says Nate Silver at The New York Times. On Thursday, Mitt mostly or completely skirted all the hot-button social issues, controversial entitlement reforms, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's pretty clear "he was seeking to fulfill the role of the generic Republican — a safe and unobjectionable alternative with a nice family and a nice career" whose main credential is that he's not Obama. That's been the underlying theme of Romney's whole campaign, so in that sense, the speech was a success, says Jonathan Bernstein at The Washington Post. "A generic speech and a generic convention for a generic Republican candidate."
4. The speech was short on specifics
Romney's speech was so generic that his five steps to fix the economy "sounded an awful lot like economic plans I used to write for President Bush," says The Daily Beast's Latimer. Heck, "parts of it even sounded a lot like economic plans outlined by Barack Obama." Yes, it's a shame that he wasn't more detailed, says Paul Gigot in The Wall Street Journal. Americans want to hear, specifically, how Romney is "going to improve the economy and their lives." True, he was "shallow and incoherent on policy," but that was "for strategic reasons," says Josh Barro at Bloomberg News. He wants this election to be about Obama, and "getting too specific might lead people to focus on Romney instead."
5. Romney "humanized" himself — to a point
Romney showed up Thursday "in full human being mode," says Roger Simon at Politico. In fact, "Romney acted so unlike his former robotic self" that he cracked jokes, including one about Mormonism. It looks like "Mitt 2.0," much to the GOP's relief, can be both "personal and funny." With any luck, says Douglas Schoen at Fox News, this humanizing speech will be a big step toward turning around Mitt's "moribund" favorable rating. Nope, says Noam Scheiber at The New Republic. Romney made "feints in the direction of image-softening," but he "never connected that humanity to what he might do as president."
6. Clint Eastwood's opening act was not helpful
Before Romney was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), 82-year-old actor Clint Eastwood took the stage — and strangely interviewed an empty chair meant to represent President Obama. So while Romney's speech was "fine," says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, "putting Clint Eastwood in primetime to interview an empty chair... was an absolute disaster." It was as bizarre as it was unnecessary, it ruined the flow of the evening, and it pushed Romney's speech back a good 15 minutes. It also stepped on his buzz, says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast. Now, "around the water cooler Friday it's going to be less about Romney than about Clint Eastwood."
And check out some speech highlights:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Watch out, China — America is working on dogfighting drones
- How liberals are unwittingly paving the way for the legalization of adult incest
- Ted Cruz is the new Sarah Palin
- How the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover revealed the worst of both shows
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Bill O'Reilly and Stephen Colbert are accidentally having a serious debate on ISIS
- Libertarianism's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea
- Why you probably don't have Ebola — even if you shook hands with America's 'patient zero'
Subscribe to the Week