So the Republican National Convention is over — I’m sure all of you followed the coverage closely on NCPR’s airwaves. Here are my eight takeaways, before I head out camping for a few days and leave politics behind.
1. The message of America as a fundamentally entrepreneurial society, a place where progress happens because individuals hustle to make a buck and build stuff, is a powerful one and it came through loud and clear this week. Even when all the fact-checkers have done their work, and the footnotes have been applied, Republicans make a strong claim to the idea that this is still the core mission of their party: freeing up individuals to succeed (or fail) economically. Like all great political rallying cries, it’s simple and straightforward and, for a lot of Americans, intensely desirable.
2. The Republican Party as an institution is far more diverse than the Republican Party’s base. This is a weird reality of modern political life in America. The GOP is increasingly a movement defined by white, rural folks who want and believe things that are often out of step with the broader cross-section of the US. But the top elected officials, and name brand politicians — and I’m not just talking Marco Rubio and Condie Rice — come from diverse, complex, cosmopolitan backgrounds. I think that chemistry bodes well for the future of the conservative movement.
3. The polls look better and better for Mitt Romney. As the week progressed, we saw numbers from more battleground states suggesting a tie. And in a presidential race, when the incumbent is in a tie, he’s generally in trouble. Romney emerges from the convention with a ton of cash, with a unified base, and with a much broader path to victory than he had just a week ago. Whatever other quibbles emerge (see below), the convention helped position Romney for an upset victory, something I would have said was very, very unlikely mid-summer.
4. I think Mitt Romney’s speech honed in on a real weakness in Obama’s re-election message. Four years ago, when the economy was imploding, Obama pushed some big ideas that weren’t directly linked to the idea of getting people back to work. Too many of the things Obama fought for haven’t even kicked in yet. In an election where it’s all about jobs-jobs-jobs, Romney focused instead on nuts-and-bolts stuff. Whether or not you think his ideas are the right ones, his focus is politically astute. It feels grounded and, to borrow a phrase that Romney would probably embrace, business-like.
Now four negatives.
1. Far, far too much of the Republican message is based on big, whopperish, and meaningful lies. I’m not talking about the little, fudgy stuff that all politicians indulge in. I’m talking about broad strokes, fundamental things that leave you wondering if these guys even bothered to connect the dots themselves. When Paul Ryan is suddenly campaigning as a defender of Medicare entitlements, as someone who thinks the government should have saved even more automobile factories, and as someone who supported the bipartisan debt reduction plan (which he helped scuttle), it doesn’t just border on the Orwellian. It is Orwellian.
2. Far, far too many of the GOP’s attacks on Barack Obama are based on (sorry for the echo) big, whopperish, and meaningful lies. If Obama’s record is so bad, make the case using facts and real stories. Don’t cynically edit video tape to suggest that the president said something that he just didn’t say. Don’t invent lies about the work requirements in Federal welfare programs. Don’t pretend that the stimulus was gobbled up by fraud. If the guy in the White House is really a threat to the Republic, surely you can tell that story right up the middle, with a minimum fudging. The fact that Team Romney hasn’t gone that route, the fact that they’ve been caught again and again telling fibs, will give a lot of voters pause, especially moderate women who could decide the election.
3. Republicans still don’t quite know how to talk about the fact that we live in a big, complicated society where government is integral to just about everything we do — yes, including starting and running businesses. I cover business a lot. And I can tell you on a simple, factual basis that there is almost no significant economic activity in America today, from Wall Street to farms to the new biotech companies that just moved to Saranac Lake, that doesn’t involve government at some level. (In the case of Midwestern agribusiness, government is hardwired into industry.) If the GOP wants to change all that, they need to explain how the change will work. How do we compete with the Chinese (and the Germans and the Canadians) whose companies are boosted regularly by government investment and infrastructure? The “I built that” message works politically and emotionally (see #1 above) but it hasn’t been accurate in America at least since government subsidies built the Trans-continental Railroad and the big dam projects in the West.
4. Republicans are still trying to win by making nervous, angry white people more nervous and more angry. A lot of the GOP’s leaders know that the “real America” no longer looks like the America that their white, rural Christian base prefers, and never will again (See #2 above). And they know that the vast majority of new Americans, and people of color, are incredibly industrious, driven and responsible. They are exactly the kind of people who will build the next America. But in this election cycle, the GOP has doubled down on the message that “entitlement people” and people without proper birth certificates (closeted Muslims, most likely) are in cahoots with shiftless government bureaucrats. The goal (apparently) is to steal from decent, entrepreneurial white Americans in the heartland so that lazy bums in places like Chicago and LA can lie around on couches watching TV. This message — and the effort to stifle voting in black and Hispanic neighborhoods — may win Republicans an election in 2012, but it’s bad for the country and bad for the future of the party.
So there are my thoughts. Still a lot to chew on. Social issues? Clint Eastwood? Comments welcome below.