Article and photo by Paul L. Gleiser
Here’s what I think in the light of day following the conclusion of the GOP convention in Tampa Thursday night.
When I walked out of the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul in 2008, I knew in my gut that John McCain was going to lose. Walking out of the Tamp Bay Times Forum Thursday night, that same gut tells me that Mitt Romney is going to win.
Romney accomplished the two things he had to get done before leaving Tampa. First, he revealed the most personal and intimate understanding of Mitt Romney the man ever to emerge in his nearly six years of campaigning for president. And second, he not only cast himself as distinctly different from Barack Obama, he explained why the difference matters.
Every one of the Democrat knocks on Romney got addressed Thursday night.
The Bain Capital attacks were blunted by Thomas Stemberg, the founder of the Staples office supply store chain. Most people don’t know what a private equity firm does. The Obama campaign has been exploiting that knowledge vacuum by casting Mitt Romney as an ethically-challenged Gordon Gekko-style Wall Street manipulator bent on personal enrichment at the expense of ordinary people.
But it is easier to understand an office supply store chain whose slogan is “That Was Easy.” Almost anyone can understand that the money to put Staples stores in strip centers all over America had to come from somewhere. And save for the those who have never worked and who have lived their entire lives as beneficiaries of government transfer payments, most people can understand the fundamental goodness of a firm willing to invest in the idea of an entrepreneur like Thomas Stemberg, who saw opportunity in replicating the home improvement store model in what was once the sleepy world of office supply stores.
And with a name like Staples now standing in for Bain Capital, many will realize that Office Max and Office Depot were spawned as a result of the success of Staples and many will realize that someone had to put up the money for all of those job-creating companies to exist as national brands.
Tom Stemberg put a successful American brand name and a relatable human face on Bain Capital, and rendered an often-used Obama campaign weapon much less effective in the process.
The elitist, unrelating and unrelatable rich-guy-snob knock on Romney was addressed as well.
By the end of the night, only the most cynical could fail to believe that for whatever flaws he may have as a politician or as it pertains to policy, Mitt Romney is otherwise a thoroughly decent, kind and generous man who loves his family and is faithful to his wife and has apparently not a single ethical lapse hidden in his closet.
The stories told by old friends who shared Sunday morning worship with the Romneys at church were in equal measure predictable and effective. Just about any scoundrel can find someone to speak well of him. But Pat and Ted Oparowsky speaking well of Romney, in the total absence of any specific person speaking ill, is powerful. It is unlikely that anyone will ever step forward to rebut the testimony of the Finlaysons. Mitt Romney apparently really is the kind of guy that helps with the laundry when he visits the home a new church member and really is the kind of guy who gently strokes the tiny back of a profoundly premature Finlayson baby girl.
Then there’s his wife. For all of the images of guilt-free fooling around in current TV and film, it is still true that most Americans like men who are faithful to and who are admired by their wives. And from where I sat (which was darned close, see the photo above), Ann Romney looked at Mitt Thursday night with the look of a woman who loves her husband for the man he is. It’s hard to quantify that look. But it’s easy to spot, particularly when you contrast it with the image of the cynical and calculated relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton.
With respect to the issues that animate the 2012 campaign — the economy, jobs, the debt, national security — Romney explained how he is different from Barack Obama. And he artfully indicted the Obama administration without indicting the Obama voter. Point-by-point, he contrasted his vision for the future against the nearly four years of troubled experience under Barack Obama.
One line in the speech was particularly resonant. Late in his speech Romney said,
President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.
Nearly four years on the state of the oceans seems pretty much as it was. But millions of families have not had such a good time of it.
Conservatives are going to vote for Mitt Romney pretty much no matter what. Liberals won’t vote for him to save their lives. So it’s the ones in the middle that matter. It’s the ones who voted for George W. Bush in 2004 but voted for Barack Obama in 2008 who must be made comfortable with the idea of again pulling the lever for a Republican. Toward that end, Mitt Romney did himself a lot of good Thursday night.
The campaign isn’t over. For most Americans, it only now begins. And history tells us that unseating an incumbent president presents a very formidable challenge.
But it happens.
And based on what I saw Thursday night in Tampa, my instinct is that it will happen in 2012.