The Emerging Message
The Republican National Convention is in full swing, leading up to tonight’s speech by the nominee. Over the past two days, the current crop of party superstars have trotted the stage to press the Republican Agenda and inflame the passions of the voting base. What is the emerging message? We tuned in so you didn’t have to.
The most concise summation of the prevailing message from the last two days is that Mitt Romney’s best quality is that he is decidedly not Barack Obama. One speaker after another have spent their time caricaturizing the President’s term as a disaster, a drama of errors, and one massive unfulfilled promise.
Rick Santorum postured for the Christian base, presenting an American dream rife with starry-eyed nostalgia for a non-existent past. In his vision of an America in which everyone works hard to graduate high school, gets married (Man + Woman only, of course), and have kids, there is virtually no poverty (2%, he cites). There is nothing particularly wrong with Mr. Santorum’s ideology, as long as you look and think like Mr. Santorum. His narrow view of freedom and liberty, words tossed about haphazardly then discarded when inconvenient, fail to address the realities of live for large segments of our society for whom life, liberty, and the pursuit of property happiness does not involve Christian values. Santorum’s attacks on the President stem largely from his social values, which raise serious questions about whether Republicans believe in protecting the state from the influences of the church or protecting the church from influences of the state.
The lack of awareness of a diverse population’s different values has been a central theme of the Republican Party for decades, but it has taken center stage since the rise of the tea party and the post-2008 schadenfreude. Serious questions remain as to how exactly the Republican Party can court voters who do not share the religious values driving its social agenda. In the attempts to rally the Party’s conservative base, what cost is there among moderate, undecided voters?
Ann Romney worked hard to build an image of her husband that makes him something more than Not-Obama. Her characterization of loving husband, devoted father was meant to give Romney an everyman appeal, to contrast the realities that Mitt Romney grew up rich, got richer, and hasn’t had a day in his life that would look anything like yours or mine. The angst over public perception is well-founded and the speech likely played well with voters concerned with the ability of the President to appear in relation to the idea of a common citizen.
Governor Chris Christie was expected to deliver the substantive foundation for the Party going forward. He chose to launch his 2016 campaign behind a lengthy description of his credentials and the problems confronting the country. Notably absent was support for the current nominee, who was mentioned a mere seven times. Gov. Christie’s self-service only further demonstrates the Party’s most consistent platform is anyone-but-Obama.
The most honest expression of this came from former Democrat and Alabama gubernatorial candidate Artur Davis, who spoke on behalf of then-nominee Obama in 2008 at the DNC. Mr. Davis addressed those moderates and undecideds who voted for President Obama in 2008. He drew on the slow recovery and grand promises of change which roused voters to the polls in 2008 turned discontent in 2012. The message was clear, here is someone who is not-Obama, let’s try that.
The key slogans have been We Built That (playing off a misconstrued President Obama quote) and We Can Do Better, an odd juxtaposition of truth and promise. Yes the Republicans deserve considerable credit for building the economic realities we live with today; yes, it is likely whoever wins will see the country perform better from 2012-2016 than it did from 2008-2012.
In the end the star of the RNC is (and likely will be) Paul Ryan’s transition from Washington insider/policy wonk to viable national personality. His definitive stance opposite the President sets him up as the de facto voice of the Party going forward. What he says may ultimately be far more important than anything Romney has to say, a curious set up for a national election in which he will be the secondary candidate. Whatever happens, the Republican Party has staked its success to the country’s desire for someone, anyone, that is not President Obama. We hope the upcoming debates provide more platform substance.