TAMPA — Tens of thousands of Republicans will leave Tampa without a bumper sticker.
The convention, which succeeded unquestionably in solidifying the party behind its nominee, appears to have failed on another front: the Romney/Ryan ticket still doesn’t have a message.
Speculation in the run-up to the convention suggested the event suggested that the convention would serve a specific and focused purpose, though previews often disagreed on what that message would be. It would, one read endlessly, introduce “humanize” Mitt Romney. It would focus the party’s attacks on Barack Obama. Or it would lay out a broad and optimistic new conservative vision for the party of Paul Ryan.
Instead, the convention has been a jumble of purposes, a set of boxes checked at the expense of a clear message from the compressed three-day event. The “humanizing” has been confined largely to a single day. The attacks, even from figures like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have been relatively mild. The vision has been more about the optics of a young and diverse party than of a clear economic plan.
Ryan’s own well-received speech embodied that jumble.
Ryan’s speech wasn’t about humanizing Romney — he joked about the presidential candidate’s poor taste in music.
It also wasn’t about attacking Obama: He took a shot at President Obama, calling him the “kind of politician who puts promises on the record, and then calls that the record,” but he’s regularly far tougher on the campaign trail.
He gave an emotional defense of Medicare, saying he would fight to protect the entitlement program that helped his grandmother and benefits his mother.
And the most memorable line came in a play for the youth vote:
“College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.”
But the speech was a mix of all these, not a focus on one.
The convention, without either a star in its nominee or a clear vision and message, is in its way a management event — every box checked, but everything hedged. The Republican Party has chosen to leave unfulfilled what was thought to be an opportunity to unite the party behind a rallying cry.
Romney’s aides say they are more than satisfied with the convention’s statement.
“We got our message out,” adviser Russ Schriefer maintained on a conference call with reporters on Thursday, but didn’t elaborate on what that message is.
The forced cancellation of Monday’s events only amplified the static. That night’s slogan: “We can do better,” was spread across the rest of the convention, leading to such dissonant moments as Mike Huckabee repeating the line that was no longer the focus.
But the nightly slogans: “We did build it,” “We can change it,” and “We believe in America,” aren’t quite themes — they’re sentiments.
What the convention lacks is the sort of simple slogan that has served as the organizing principle for such events in the past: “Hope and Change” or “Country First”: — discrete statements that convey meaning to a campaign and a message to voters across the country.
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist said the lack of an apparent unified message reflects the disparate electorates Romney and Ryan need to win over.
“You’re not going to have one complete message to deal with a bunch of non-aligned people who vote on a dozen different issues,” he said.
But it also reflects the race Romney and his aides believe they are still running — one that is a referendum on the President in a terrible economy.
“The message is ‘we’re not Barack Obama and we’re not crazy,’” interpreted one GOP operative. “It’s about making themselves a credible alternative, not about putting forth a vision of their own.”