By Elvin Lim
The Republicans’ convention bump for Mitt Romney appears to be muted. Why? There was a lot of bad luck. Holding the convention before the Labor Day weekend caused television viewership to go down by 30 percent, as did the competing and distracting news about Hurricane Isaac. The Clint Eastwood invisible chair wasn’t a disaster, but a wasted opportunity that Romney’s advisors should have vetted. Valuable time that could have been spent promoting Romney (such as the video of him that had to be played earlier) before he came out to speak on prime time, was instead spent in a meandering critique of Obama.
Obama’s first remarks about the convention was that it was something you would see on a black-and-white tv — a new spin on the Republican Party as allegedly backward, as opposed to the Democrat’s who lean “Forward.”
The most revealing thing about the convention was that President George W. Bush wasn’t asked to speak. Instead, he appeared in a video with the older Bush, possibly in a bid to mollify the presence of the younger. Republicans are still divided over Bush, which is why they continued their hagiography of Reagan in the convention. For all of Jeb Bush’s intonations for the Obama campaign to stop putting blame on the previous administration, the fact is that the convention conceded that George W. Bush was indeed a liability. “Forward” is a narrative that can work as long as the look immediately backwards isn’t too satisfying.
On the other side, Bill Clinton will of course make an appearance in Charlotte in next week. The Democrats have also wisely flooded the speakers’ list with women, to show that the Republicans’ paltry presentation of just five women represent the tokenism narrative that Democrats are trying to paint. Women are America’s numerically biggest demographic and they are more likely to turn out than men (by 4% in 2008).
In this final stretch, the gurus are gunning straight for the demographics. Campaigning has become a science, albeit an imperfect one. The Romney campaign now knows that a generic refutation of the Obama’s performance about the economy, jobs, the national debt — which we’ve been hearing for nearly four years — is not going to change the underlying tectonics of voter sentiment. This is why they tried to elevate the Medicare issue last week, and why they’re trying the personalize Romney strategy this week. The latter is more likely to work, and it should be done quickly, because next week, the DNC intends to make America fall in love with Barack Obama again.
Elvin Lim is Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com and his column on politics appears on the OUPblog regularly.