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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Where Has This Guy Been All Campaign?



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The final Morning Jolt of an exhausting convention week in its entirety — now subscribe if you haven’t, so the Powers That Be don’t nudge me to leave something for subscribers in future editions:

Who Are You, and What Did You Do With the Old Mitt?

At times, he was scary good.

No, really, where has that Mitt Romney been all year? All campaign? Since 2007?

Every time he’s given a nice speech after a primary victory, I would usually joke on Twitter, “ah, looks like those new personality software upgrades are working out, he sounds much more natural now,” or something like that. (It’s a perennial; as Erick Erickson said last night, “Romney v.6.5 is pretty awesome.”)

But the Mitt Romney we saw tonight . . . it’s as if he had been saving up every bit of his inner emotional life, his soft, sentimental side, and let it all out. This was a speech that requires us to reexamine what we think we know about Romney. He might be a guy who is just spectacularly focused, and remarkably capable and adaptable. And in each objective in Romney’s life — at Bain, in Massachusetts, in his past campaigns — he has done, and adapted, to whatever the situation requires. And so when people say he’s stiff, or boring . . . remember that he’s never really needed to be “humanized” before now. Or people like you and I have urged him to do it, but he hasn’t really needed to do it . . . until this moment. Right around now, the casual voters start paying attention.

And then he told the story of his father leaving a rose for his mother on her bedside table every day until he died.

And then he mentioned about how he and Ann wish they could have one more day of their sons being young, and rambunctious, and all wrestling with each other. (I wonder if he was aiming for the been-away-for-his-sons-for-nearly-a-week-convention-correspondent demographic.)

And then he gently ribbed his rival by contrasting Obama’s grandiose pledge to lower the oceans and heal the earth . . . against a simple promise to help you and your families.

Ross Douthat: “It was a highly effective reintroduction to Romney the man, w/absolutely nothing in it to make Americans nervous about voting for him.”

Tabitha Hale: “Suddenly this doesn’t feel like 2008 anymore.”

2. The Rest of the Thursday Speakers

We’ve heard quite a bit about the need to “humanize” Romney. I suppose this comes from the sense of not knowing what a politician is like when they’re not on camera, when they’re not on stage, when the applauding crowds have all gone home, and when it’s just him and those who have known him since before he was famous.

Every once in a while, you hear stories of Mitt Romney that suggest he’s just the nicest, kindest, most warm-hearted guy in the world — almost too good to be true. And yet, on the campaign trail, that comes through all so rarely. I’ve speculated that young Mitt saw his father’s political career get immolated by one stray comment and the ruthless knives of the Nixon operation, and came away with a desire to never show too much to the eyes of the public. Even when he’s speaking off the cuff he seems scripted.

America, meet Ted and Pat Oparowski:

In 1979, tragedy struck our family when our youngest son, David, age 14, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Over a period of seven months, he was in and out of Children’s Hospital in Boston for treatment. Throughout that agonizing period, Mitt took time from his busy schedule to visit David. They developed a loving friendship.

On one of his visits, Mitt discovered that David was very fond of fireworks. He went out and bought a box full of “BIG TIME” fireworks that had to sit on the closet shelf because they couldn’t be set off in the city. We waited until we were able to go to Ogunquit, Maine, where we set them off on the sand dunes — with permission from the fire and police departments.

Through that simple but thoughtful gift, Mitt brought joy to a young boy who hadn’t experienced any for too long. He also gave the rest of us a welcome release.

On another visit, David, knowing Mitt had gone to law school at Harvard, asked Mitt if he would help him write a will. He had some prized possessions he wanted to make sure were given to his closest friends and family.

The next time Mitt went to the hospital, he was equipped with his yellow legal pad and pen. Together, they made David’s will. That is a task that no child should ever have to do. But it gave David peace of mind.

So, after David’s death, we were able to give his skate board, his model rockets, and his fishing gear to his best friends. He also made it clear that his brother, Peter, should get his Ruger .22 rifle.

How many men do you know would take the time out of their busy lives to visit a terminally ill 14 year old and help him settle his affairs?

David also helped us plan his funeral. He wanted to be buried in his Boy Scout uniform. He wanted Mitt to pronounce his eulogy. Mitt was there to honor that request. We will be ever grateful to Mitt for his love and concern.

Jeff Greenfield: “Is there any doubt those affecting, moving stories of Romney’s kindnesses will be seen via TV ads? (Remember ‘Ashley’s Story’ from 2004?)”

Then we got our mystery guest . . . Clint Eastwood.

It . . . was odd. Not consistently terrible as some argued. I have no doubt some folks loved it. It may very well have actually moved some votes. But boy, did it get weird at times.

First, Eastwood looks old. But even more than that, he used no notes or script, and his remarks appeared to be stream of consciousness. Dirty Harry’s first two shots were through each of the teleprompters. He pretended to be having a conversation with Obama, except I don’t know if he ever clearly set up the premise, so it seemed like he was hearing voices. But then every time he came up to the edge of the cliff, and you thought the segment would be an absolute train-wreck . . . he pulled back with some great line: “I thought maybe it was just because somebody had the stupid idea of trying terrorists in downtown New York City.” “Politicians are employees of ours.” “Of course we all know Biden is the intellect of the Democratic party.” And if the aim of this convention is to persuade Obama voters of 2008 that it’s okay to vote for Romney in 2012, then maybe nothing said last night will be more powerful than Eastwood’s gravelly, “When somebody does not do the job, you’ve got to let them go.”

As for Rubio . . .

A few folks had wondered about the conventional wisdom that Rubio was on the short list. The reasons against are clear: He’s young; he looks even younger; he’s been in the Senate less than two years and who knows if he would be ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency starting in January. But here’s why Rubio enjoyed future-presidential-candidate buzz from day one: He was one of the few 2010 candidates who ran on a national theme, why America is unique, why immigrants risk their lives to come here instead of the other way around, and why we endanger our future by adopting the policies of social-democrat, welfare-state governments in other countries instead of upgrading and updating the free-market approach that built so much prosperity for so many decades. He’s got the vision and he talks about big things, and it resonates with a lot of people both inside and outside the Republican party.

3. Life on the Convention Beat

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to cover a national political convention . . .

After sending off the Jolt, the workday begins by driving into the city. For much of the week, Garmin has imagined an exit from an overpass that does not exist. I get around easier with the Garmin than without, but boy, does Garmin’s feminine voice like to squeeze every bit of disappointment and condescension into every declaration of “Recalculating . . . Take first right . . . [Sigh] . . . Recalculating . . .” Once you’re downtown, it’s time to run the security gauntlet. Don’t get me wrong; every cop, Secret Service agent, National Guardsman, and every other person involved with security I’ve encountered so far has been a complete professional. But it is a bit dispiriting to have the bag searched, laptop removed, empty the pockets, walk through the magnetometer, get hand-wanded and so on several times a day — usually separate personal searches to enter the media center and the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the actual convention proceedings are being held. Mind you, this is within the security perimeter, where every vehicle has already been searched, every person has shown the appropriate lanyard pass several times, and so on. There’s often a drone of police helicopters, and if some of the Coast Guard helicopters come any lower, we’ll have haircuts. Kevin Williamson — the only NRnik who can alter his appearance to plausibly blend in with the Occupy Crowd; if NRHQ were a police precinct, most of us would look like lieutenants and detectives, while Kevin would be the undercover cop — had a thought on the security atmosphere:

[Convention organizers] have turned friendly little Tampa into something very unpleasantly resembling a prison camp, complete with rooftop patrols, combat gear, gunboats with weapons mounted on monopods, Green Zone-style barriers — the whole works. It is all very un-republican, though it has been conducted with a great deal more professionalism and courtesy than one experiences at the hands of the TSA. Still, it is kind of gross: Either this sort of thing is necessary or it is unnecessary, and neither possibility says anything good about the state of our republic.

In the media center, you run into just about everyone in the Washington journalism world — big names and small, former co-workers, former rivals on your beat, faces you recognize but can’t connect to a name. When going from Point A to Point B during convention time, you need to allocate time for the inevitable “Oh, hey, I haven’t seen you in forever!” chats. Sometimes I hear from readers their suspicions that Washington journalists are clubby and cliquish. Maybe some are, but I figure it’s a lot like any profession, and this is kind of like the annual trade show for any other business — you see the folks from past workplaces and campaigns that you really like and miss, the ones you don’t miss so much, the folks who always weird and now you wonder if they’ve gotten even weirder. (Journalism does not attract “normal” personalities. Some delightful personalities, some socially awkward and more comfortable with written words, and some genuinely unhinged personalities, but very few “normal” ones.) I’m reminded of Joan Cusack’s line about her high school reunion in Grosse Pointe Blank: “It was just as if everyone had swelled.” Then there are the politicians. I was stuck on a security line with Herman Cain. “Too bad you weren’t nominated, Mister Cain,” I said, meaning he wouldn’t be stuck in a security line. He gave me hearty back slap almost hard enough to dislodge a lung. “Thank you!” he said with a beaming smile. “Thankyouthankyouthankyou!” One of the highlights of Thursday for me was running into Woody Johnson of the New York Jets. If you’re a diehard supporter of both the GOP and Jets, you’re used to rooting for lost causes.

4. Addendum Nathan Wurtzel: “I’d say the convention did its job in terms of message. Now $500 million in paid ads will back it up.”


Tags: Clint Eastwood , Marco Rubio , Mitt Romney , Paul Ryan


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