Before I read what the rest of the online world took away from the first night of the Republican National Convention, I thought I would share my own impressions. These are hastily jotted down, after watching roughly two and a half hours of speakers and pundits (some speakers I missed because I was either flipping through the channels, some of which didn't carry every speech).
I tuned in while the guy from Virginia (McConnell? didn't even catch his name, and am too lazy to look it up, sorry) was speaking. His speech was pretty boring, but he did have the best anchorman "helmet hair" I've seen since... oh, I don't know... John Edwards, maybe? This is a real accomplishment, what with Romney and Ryan setting the "perfect hair" bar so high in the GOP.
Scott Walker from Wisconsin was the first speech I saw from the start, and he seemed triumphant after beating his recall election. Content-wise, his speech seemed to consist of "jobs, jobs, jobs" which is all I wrote down. Other than that, not very memorable.
Rick Santorum was the first big name to get the crowd fired up. He got a big standing ovation when taking the stage, but the crowd wasn't all that excited for the rest of his speech, with the exception of a few applause lines that tossed some red meat to the religious base. Santorum, as always, seemed rather stiff, and he delivered his speech seemingly through clenched teeth. But that's his usual speaking style, not really a comment about the speech itself.
A quick aside: what is up with the background of clouds that is lurching around like a ship at sea foundering among the waves? I mean, was this background supposed to induce nausea? Because that's the effect it had on me. And I'm not prone to motion sickness, either. It just seemed a bit odd, which at some point someone seemed to realize, and they went with a freeze-frame shot which was much better.
Santorum's speech, content-wise, was the usual stuff, complete with complaining about Obama gutting welfare work requirements even though every fact checker in the universe has called this "a lie." But that's to be expected at a convention, I suppose. Rick tried to get lofty with his "I shook the hand of the American Dream" but for me it fell rather flat. He did get a big hand with his anti-abortion stance from the crowd, but overall his speech just seemed about five or ten minutes too long.
Ted Cruz was much more lively, and much more entertaining. He stalked a podium-free stage, which he must have asked for specifically, since the other speakers all used a traditional setting. Cruz did actually look at ease with this setting, although the cameras sometimes had a hard time following him. Cruz was the most anti-Obama speaker yet, playing the attack dog card brilliantly. At the end, he truly got the crowd fired up with the refrain of "Yes we can!" which he used to skewer Obama. The crowd ate it up. It's easy to see why he is doing so well in Texas with his strong speechifying skills.
Artur Davis was the traditional "I used to be in the other party" speaker, and he was the reddest of red meat in the entire evening. Ted Cruz had done a pretty good job of attacking Obama, but with Davis you could tell it was personal. Davis's snark was on full display, and the crowd responded to it. Davis also has an authentic Southern drawl that he used to full effect, pacing his speech extremely well.
Nikki Haley spoke, but all the stations I flipped to didn't cover it. The wife of the Puerto Rican governor also got stepped on by the pundits, as she introduced the first really big name of the night, Ann Romney.
Ann is not a politician, of course, but the wife of one. She is obviously not a polished speaker, at times running too fast and at times getting a little too chirpy in her efforts to be "jes' plain folks." But that's somewhat of an unfair comment, since as I said, she is not a professional speaker, unlike everyone else on the stage today. Part of it may be her unfamiliarity with a TelePrompTer (which all the speakers used -- shocking, isn't it?).
Ann's speech was all about "love" and all about humanizing her husband. The first was a little sappy (since when do Republicans get all bleeding heart?). But the crowd certainly did love her, and love her speech. She got big rounds of applause at the appropriate moments, such as when she quoted the Bible (always a sure winner with a GOP crowd). Her biggest line of the night was "This man will not fail" which will likely be the headline we'll all see in the papers tomorrow. Her second-biggest line was "You can trust Mitt," but it wasn't as powerful as the "will not fail" line, I thought.
All around, Ann did everything she could to achieve the humanizing effect she was reaching for. Will it sway the American voter? I don't know, but she certainly gave it her best shot.
Chris Christie was the keynote speaker, and he even got a little intro video that at least PBS covered (the major networks seemed to be yapping over this intro). Oh no! We're back to the nauseating background! Sigh. Keep your barf bags handy, I guess. Seriously, this might look good inside the arena itself, but on a television camera zoomed in to the speaker, it really is distracting.
Christie got the big rock star treatment from the audience, who was much more animated than during any other speaker (even Ann Romney). You can tell this is a man who is deeply thinking about running for president himself some day. Christie has that quality other politicians strive for but seldom achieve -- authenticity. There's an old joke about "once you can fake that, you've got it made" but Christie doesn't look like he's faking much of anything.
Christie -- like most of the speakers today -- spent far more time talking about himself than Mitt Romney. But hey, it's only Day One of the convention, and the people behind the scenes always like to "build" to a big finish at the end, so perhaps in the next two days we'll hear a bit more about the candidate (Ann, obviously, is the major exception to this rule).
Christie offered up some red meat to the crowd, but what's interesting is how tightly the Romney team vetting these speeches has been -- Barack Obama's name is seldom mentioned, and even the attacks on Obama are mostly framed as "this is what Democrats believe" rather than making it more personal. Maybe it's Mitt's "nice guy" touch behind the scenes, or maybe it's because Obama is so much better liked by the public at large than Romney himself. In any case, it is a marked change from four years ago, but then again, it's only the first day, so we'll see.
Christie certainly roused the crowd with his blunt style of speaking. After the mandatory Bruce Springsteen and Jersey Shore nods, Christie presented himself as Mr. Tough Guy who talks truth. Again, the crowd loved it. His riff on what "we believe" and what "they believe" went over particularly well. Throughout the night, the theme of "Democrats are divisive, and of course we are not" was on display from many speakers, and Christie almost blew this with his "we" and "they" bit, but the crowd didn't seem to care much.
Christie got big hands for all the things in his own record he listed, especially taking on teachers unions (another big applause line for Republicans). Mitt Romney had come out on stage after his wife spoke, and stuck around to hear Christie speak, although at times the camera caught him looking kind of bored. When he was introduced by Christie, he didn't even stand up for the crowd, which I thought was kind of an awkward moment.
Christie at times seemed angry, but in an authentic sort of way, which has been his political persona from the start. He tossed the required amounts of red meat out to the crowd, and his best line was "Real leaders don't follow polls, real leaders change polls."
OK, having said all of that, I will now go out and see what others have to say. Join us here tomorrow night for a recap of Day Two of the Republican National Convention.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant