Who knew that Republicans suddenly were vegetarians? Or, at least, who knew that Republicans gathered in convention in Tampa would stay away from the red meat that many anticipated would dominate the speeches from the podium?
This, after all, is a party clearly united in its antipathy to President Obama and an overwhelming desire to make him a one-termer. And the criticisms voiced in most of the early speeches at the Republican National Convention have been tough and persistent. But, especially compared with all the GOP conventions of recent decades, the rhetoric has been notably restrained. There has been nothing as biting as Pat Buchanan’s notorious warnings in 1992 of “a religious war” and complaint about the “malcontents” in the White House. And certainly nothing as colorfully nasty as Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s memorable 1996 attack on President Clinton “and his high-taxing, free-spending, promise-breaking, Social Security-taxing, health care-socializing, drug-coddling, power-grabbing, business-busting, lawsuit-loving, U.N.-following, FBI-abusing, IRS-increasing, $200-hair-cutting, gas-taxing, over-regulating, bureaucracy-trusting, class-baiting, privacy-violating, values-crushing, truth-dodging, Medicare-forsaking, property-rights-taking, job-destroying friends.”
Instead, the speakers on the opening night of this year’s convention have spoken softly, apparently eager not to appear unreasonable in their criticisms of the president. The only real exception was former Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, a recent convert to the GOP. But even his attacks on Obama’s “poetry” and “recklessness” fell a little short of being truly tough.
As National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein notes, the softer rhetoric does not mean the issues often being raised—immigration, welfare, and voter-identification laws—are not polarizing and even racially charged. Certainly, the oft-heard wish to “take our country back” walks right up to the line. But there is no doubt that the White House was braced for much worse.
Surely they expected New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to live up to his reputation as a tough talker. Instead, he spent much of his time at the podium talking about himself and his state, never even mentioning the president by name. The closest he came was, “Mr. President, real leaders don’t follow polls.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also talked more about his own state than about the president, though he was tougher than Christie in lamenting the “wrong direction” of the country under Obama and hitting the incumbent for an overreliance on government.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was perhaps the most pointed in her attacks on the president, blasting him for trying to pressure a Boeing plant in South Carolina on unions. “We deserve a president who won’t sacrifice American jobs and American workers to pacify bullying union bosses he counts as political allies,” she said. And Mia Love, the Republican candidate for a House seat in Utah, accused the president of dividing America, “often pitting us against each other based on our income level, gender and social status.”
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