Small as Small Is: The Republicans in Tampa

Posted on Tuesday night as Wednesday’s regular blog.

The Republican convention last night seemed, well, small.  Perhaps because the hurricane reduced its schedule, perhaps because the hall looked miniature, perhaps because the too many empty chairs diluted its energy – for whatever reason, the thing looked smaller than similar events in the past.  I could not put my finger on it, except that I suspect that most people in the room feared that most Americans watching – if they watched – do not believe what they heard.  I sense strongly, too, that the delegates in Tampa do not believe that Mitt Romney can win.  All seemed out of sync, including the much-anticipated speech from Ann Romney, dressed in Nancy Reagan red.  I will leave for women to judge if she connected with them.  To me, it was a sycophantic appeal that did little to address the threat Republicans pose to women – a startling oversight in light of the fears raised anew by Todd Akin of Missouri and Paul Ryan.

Any personal story can be interesting.  Any couple’s past can be lovely but it is useless to what happens next if it is just a story.

Any of us can believe the Mitt and Ann Romney story.  The delegates in the hall might have believed it, but I am not sure the rest of the country did – if it was watching.  If Americans were watching, they would have seen that when Romney himself appeared from behind the curtain to thank and kiss his wife the hall did not convulse into delirium.  And so the job Ann Romney was assigned to do did not pay off automatically.  Wait till Bill Clinton takes the stage in Charlotte on behalf of President Obama.  Wait till Obama himself walks to the podium.  The Republicans are trying to start a new narrative in the shadows of the failed Bush Presidency and his failed economy.  Romnney is not enough to fill in the space Bush left behind.  The vacuum remains, which  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tried to fill.

But Christie projected an image, though, of someone straining physically.  I was more concerned about his heart.  A large man, he did not fill in so much as flail.  Angry and defensive is not a good style for a party that the public believes is more of the one percent than the 99 percent.  His speech will soon be forgotten by about the time Ryan reaches the podium tonight.  Christie’s speech will be part of the nation’s political convention history and of a convention that so far is not living up to Bob Dole’s doomed gathering in San Diego in 1996.   Dole at least was an authentic war hero.  Christie was pitching the proverbial suit.  In many ways, his speech was limited and limiting.  Loud, yes, but it said little.  A keynote speech is supposed to personify the central theme of a party but also be an answer to the times.  The times are angry and anxious enough, as Rick Santorum — the Republican’s next Pat Buchanan — proved in the standard swipe at Hispanics and Latinos and immigrants.

What does the unfolding disaster in Tampa mean?  It makes Romney’s speech Thursday ever more important.  I do think that a lot of people will tune in to hear Ryan and Romney’s speech – only to see for themselves what they already suspect.  The convention might well be the high point of Romney’s campaign.  They will not see big.  It is hard – really hard – to see how Romney catches enough fire to catch up to Obama who is ahead in the polls and in the critical states.

If I am right about this, then the national audience for the convention’s proceedings last night was probably small – like everything else that I heard.  If the ratings were small and if they are small again on Thursday night, I would not be surprised that instead of giving Romney a lift it sets him up for a Democratic national convention next week that will seal his fate.

Obama is large enough even within a weakened economy to tower over what we saw last night in Florida.

Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman and writes at

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