Having been away during the Republican Convention I didn't follow it 'live' but my impression is that, with the exception of Clint Eastwood's entertainingly batshit crazy contribution, it went pretty well.
It was a disciplined and well-run show and the GOP put its moderate face forward. The Tea Party was nowhere to be seen. Clint aside, nobody said anything wildly embarrassing. Rising stars like Susanna Martinez, Chris Christie and Condi Rice (a runner in 2016? I suspect not - but she may be angling to get her old job back under Romney) put in good performances (well, Christie's was a little self-centred). Paul Ryan did well enough and is lucky that more fuss hasn't been made about his weird marathon fibbing.
The candidate himself gave a very good speech. If you watch Romney's 2008 effort you can see how hard he's worked at improving his podium delivery. Four years ago he came across as over-excited and a bit weird - last week, he was energetic but calm and self-assured and, well, presidential. Looking at the faces of people in the hall as spoke about his family there seemed to be a bit of bonding with his own party going on too. For all the talk about low enthusiasm for this candidate I suspect the Republican grassroots will be more motivated than the Democrats this fall. The party left Tampa in a good mood.
It seems as if Romney is getting his strategy right, too. His speech was rich in "more in sorrow than anger" rhetoric that chimed with Ryan's line about jobless college graduates gazing up at fading Obama posters on the wall. For example, here's Romney:
How many days have you woken up feeling that something really special was happening in America? Many of you felt that way on Election Day four years ago. Hope and Change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him. The President hasn’t disappointed you because he wanted to. The President has disappointed America because he hasn’t led America in the right direction.
If you read this excellent report on a candid talk that Karl Rove gave to big GOP donors last week, you'll get a fuller idea of why Romney and Ryan are talking like this. Here's Rove:
“If you say he’s a socialist, they’ll go to defend him. If you call him a ‘far out left-winger,’ they’ll say, ‘no, no, he’s not.’” The proper strategy, Rove declared, was criticizing Obama without really criticizing him—by reminding voters of what the president said that he was going to do and comparing it to what he’s actually done. “If you keep it focused on the facts and adopt a respectful tone, then they’re gonna agree with you.”
This is smart. Meanwhile, the Democrats may have got their strategy wrong. The Dems tried to destroy Romney early by painting him as a rich and ruthless jobkiller. The end result is that voters know that Romney is rich and that he's a businessman. Generally, they like and admire both of these conditions.
As Rove pointed out, the Obama campaign has spent a hell of a lot of money for very little return. After well over $100m on ads, Romney is still right on Obama's shoulder.
All in all, as Jonathan Freedland reminded his readers on Friday, this is shaping up into a winnable race for Mitt Romney. He is the underdog, certainly. But he is in a much stronger position than McCain was in 2008 and - I'd say - than Kerry in 2004.
Buckle up and strap that dog tightly to the roof. The 2012 general is going to be quite a ride.