OK, let's get right to my immediate impressions of the final night of the Republican National Convention. I'm going to quickly describe the opening acts, and then get into the big speeches of the night.
Tonight, the first person I saw on stage was not named McConnell. Oddly enough, when I turned on the teevee, PBS was interviewing Mitch McConnell. Strangest thing, and total coincidence, I guess.
Connie Mack talked about Cuba and whatnot. The audience yawned, from what I could see.
There was a mandatory Ronald Reagan video, and the crowd genuflected in unison.
Newt Gingrich appeared with his wife, and they jointly gave the worst speech I've ever seen Newt give. I mean, it had no red meat in it, Newt was speaking far too slowly, and his wife seemed to be having problems reading the TelePrompTer or something. Newt's usually good just on entertainment value alone, but he was abysmally bad tonight. His entire speech was a sermon to Saint Ronald of Reagan, but even that didn't help, and the audience mostly snoozed through this speech.
We were then treated to a panderiffic video on "Why don't Latinos love the GOP?" or some such. This was merely the beginning of the panderfest, tonight, to both Latinos and to women.
Craig Romney kept this spirit alive by speaking some Spanish. To me, extremely odd to hear Spanish spoken at a convention where they just put "English only" in their platform, but I suppose pandering means not having to say you're sorry... or something... it's hard to tell, at times. Craig tells story of his own family fleeing Mexico, but neglects to mention the reason they were down there in the first place, which was to be polygamists.
We got a Jeb Bush video next which sounded suspiciously like it was narrated by Fred Thompson. I guess he needs the voiceover work, these days....
Jeb himself then came out with two random guys. Jeb cracked a Dubya joke, then tried to rehabilitate his brother's legacy, not to any noticeable effect. He then shifts to education, and the crowd goes back to sleep. Jeb flubbed his big buildup line about vouchers... oh, excuse me "school choice" (the word "vouchers" was indeed never mentioned). He also blows introducing one of the two random guys, by saying he "got a great election" instead of "education." Oh, well. Jeb closes with some union-bashing, leaving me with the impression that his segment was about five or ten minutes too long (the crowd seemed to agree).
I then flipped channels to see what other news was happening, so I apparently missed a huge "humanize Mitt" effort with some folks saying why Mitt was like an angel come to Earth (or something). I like a good sob story, but this also seemed to go on pretty longish, as it was still on after I took a 15-minute break.
Next we see the Staples guy. Really? Wow, pretty low-power guest list for the last night. Staples guy totally rips into Obama, flinging the first red meat to the carnivorous crowd. Getting his full anti-Obama snark on really wakes the crowd up, who join him in a few call-and-response numbers. Big hand for ripping Joe Biden.
We next got some business guy, in an attempt to hit the Bain notes and the pander to Latinos note at the same time. Lots of anti-Cuba folks on the stage tonight. Not sure that does much good outside Florida, but then Florida itself is worth pandering to for Republicans, at this point. Crowd mostly calms back down.
PBS ran a segment talking about what was going on with the memorable line: "Is Bain Capital running for president?"
Mitt's lieutenant governor is next up, and gives a rather chirpy (and at times, shrill) speech. Massachusetts was paradise under Mitt. Lots of Obama-bashing (including, inexplicably, a dig about Obama not living American family values?).
The Massachusetts-is-wonderful portion of the program continued with a Democrat who was in Romney's cabinet, and who looks ready and willing to have Mitt's baby, right here and right now. She quivered with excitement her whole time speaking. Skirts dangerously close to endorsing quotas of women in government jobs, but then she did say she's a "liberal Democrat" several times. The pander-to-women thing is on full force during this speech. She did have one bizarre line about Mitt being a "servant leader," whatever that's supposed to be.
Next up in the "This Is Your Life, Mitt Romney" show, we were supposed to see Taylor Hicks sing a song, but thankfully there were pundits talking instead.
Next up was Olympics fever, complete with the "miracle on ice" hockey team captain. This allows the crowd to get a few "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chants off their chests. Romney saved the Olympics, and saved 9/11 (somehow), in a continuation of what could be called "tug on the heartstrings" night. Nobody mentions the federal government bailout money that actually did save the Olympics from ruin. Forgot that detail, I guess.
Touchy-feely video about Ann and the Olympics, just in case we didn't get the point. Mitt in quotable line: "How ya doin', knucklesnorts?" Knucklesnorts? Your guess is as good as mine. Fuzzy history of Mitt's family coming from Mexico again, "refugees from revolution," with no mention of the polygamy they had gone down to Mexico to practice. Guess they're hoping America doesn't know the rest of the story on that one. The video's music is super-extra-softly-sappy, although no tinkly pianos or violins.
OK, an interlude. I flipped over to see the network coverage begin, and CBS is showing a pre-season football game. I have to believe that this is just the local station, since it is a 49ers game, and that somewhere out on the airwaves Bob Schieffer is doing his thing.
Clint Eastwood. Wow. I mean, that was just... wow.
Clint's cringeworthy performance could have been due to a last-minute switch, from what I hear rumored. Clint may have had a sketch with an Obama impersonator who got nixed at the last minute, but his whole "conversation with an empty chair" was just embarrassingly bad. Even the audience didn't quite know what to think. Whatever he was mumbling wasn't on the TelePrompTer, folks inside the arena report, so the whole thing was just one long, sad ad-lib, apparently. He even blew his own big "Go ahead, make my day" line at the end, and had to do it over again. Just really, really sad, all around.
Marco Rubio got the "runner-up prize in the veepstakes" slot right before Mitt's big speech. He gave sort of a stock off-the-shelf Republican speech, bashed Obama a little, but really it wasn't anything memorable. At least they have seen fit to banish the nauseating shifting blue background, and have solid Republican red behind Rubio. This is amusing to anyone who lived through the Cold War, as Rubio ripped on Castro repeatedly. He has had to edit his own story about his parents, once the press learned that they weren't fleeing Castro but had left Cuba years earlier. This hampers Rubio's storyline considerably. He did get a little lively at the end, but it wasn't much to write home about, overall.
Finally, Mitt's turn. Oh, wait! He's pulling a "State Of The Union" entrance! He takes a rock-star walk down the aisle, shaking hands for all he's worth. I guess this is supposed to humanize him or something. He does get a big long standing O from the crowd, who seems to love his entrance.
Mitt first spends some time on a shoutout to Ryan, "a man with a big heart from a small town" (which is actually a pretty good line, I have to admit). A little scattered Obama-bashing, and then Mitt himself moves into full pander mode and gets all freedom-ey about immigration (while not saying a word about the 12 million people he wants to see "self-deport" of course).
Mitt gives his usual sort of speech, looking slightly stiff and slightly uncomfortable. But he has gotten better at attempting to inject some emotion here and there, although you can see he's no natural at it. He then panders to the middle class and tries to convince America he knows what someone's life is like who works two jobs. Good luck with that, Mitt.
He finally does get off one good line: "I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed." That's the sort of thing Republicans should have been saying for the last four years instead of doing everything they could to make Obama fail, but like I said, for a political speech it's a nice touch.
Mitt then tries his hand at some jingoism, and gets the crowd to bust out a few more "U-S-A!" chants. The crowd is definitely feeling the Mitt love tonight. He mentions his father for a bit, and even admits he's a Mormon (briefly) before moving right along.
There are reports of hecklers in the arena, but I didn't see or hear any.
Mitt shifts into pander-to-women gear, in a further attempt to humanize himself. The crowd loves a big shoutout Mitt gives to Ann. Mitt is doing great with the TelePrompTer, looks like he's had a lot of recent practice. Haven't heard a peep about that all week, what with all the Obama-bashing. Guess it would have crossed a bridge too far to rip Obama for using a TelePrompTer while reading the words off a TelePrompTer or something.
Mitt trots out a few anti-Obama lines, but the crowd apparently didn't get the memo on when to applaud. Mitt then moves on to Bain, and tries a bizarre joke about not investing the Mormon Church pension funds because he "didn't want to go to Hell" but then admits he took the Episcopal Church's investment instead. Maybe Mitt's not afraid of Episcopal Hell? The mind boggles at the theological implications.
Mitt gets one good line off about "we don't apologize for success" in America, and the crowd loves it and gives him a big hand. Mitt starts to hit a certain rhythm here. Tries to paint Obama as Carter, and then does the whole riff on "better off than you were four years ago" before smoothly moving to "What America needs is jobs -- lotsa jobs." The crowd is at full fever pitch.
Mitt starts laying out the Democratic plan for the future, and the crowd joyfully boos along with him. American will fail, fail, fail if we elect Obama to a second term. Mitt's energy independence line gets huge applause. He then uses the standard "apology tour" lie that Republicans have been repeating ever since they heard Fox News use it years ago.
Mitt tries to throw Obama a bone at the end on Osama Bin Laden's death, but then bashes Obama on foreign policy for his big finish. The crowd goes predictably bonkers, although they seemed to have a problem with the balloon drop (which took way too long to get going).
Irony of ironies, they close singing "America" -- which Mitt Romney is famous for not being able to sing. Thankfully, while you can see his lips mouth the song, he is nowhere near a microphone.
So that's it for the big GOP party. Mitt gave an adequate speech, and hit all the things he wanted to hit. This is his biggest night of the campaign, and as I said he seemed to give a workable speech, but while he cleared the bar, he didn't exactly knock anything out of the park. The entire night was extremely subdued compared to yesterday, and seemed rather small-bore all the way around. Two of the biggest names totally flopped (Newt and Clint). Rubio was much less impressive than I'd been led to believe in the speechifyin' department. Mitt Romney probably pleased Republicans with his speech tonight, but it's doubtful whether he gave any undecided Americans a real reason to vote for him. Time (and the polls) will tell.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant