Mitt Romney gave a great speech on Thursday night, but we won’t know for hours — or maybe even days — whether it was a success.
For most Americans, Romney is still talking.
The balloons have dropped, the candidate has stepped away from the lectern, and the networks have returned to their previously scheduled programs. But Romney’s remarks are just starting to carom through our diverse media, like the brightly colored balls on a pool table, with all sorts of speed and spin.
The speech was well crafted, expertly produced, and delivered with panache. Now Jon Stewart must weigh in. And Rush Limbaugh and Toure. Your pals will text you on your smartphone and tell you what app to tap. You’ll hear from Facebook friends and tweeps. Wits and partisan half-wits will slap silly captions on photographs, and post them online. Doyle McManus will lead a discussion on a Google+ Hangout, streamed via YouTube. Meghan McCain will make a tequila joke. We will laugh about Clint Eastwood and the chair. And a whole new cycle of chatter and blah blah will lift off on Friday morning, with Mika and Joe and friends.
The scholars call it ambient awareness, the process by which we take in, or exclude, from the torrents of peripheral impressions in our media-rich culture. Campaigns can hope, and try, to shape it. But, often, it has a life of its own.
Ann Romney’s speech on Tuesday was immediately embraced. Chris Christie’s address was not. Paul Ryan seemed to have given a fine speech on Wednesday night, until a counter-narrative spread on Thursday about his disregard for facts. By midday #LyinRyan was a leading trend on Twitter, beating out the news that Jersey Shore had been cancelled.
That quote from Neil Newhouse, Romney’s pollster — “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” — spread across the Web, with a nudge from President Obama and the Democrats. So did an oh-so-polite report by the Associated Press that concluded that Ryan had taken, um, “factual shortcuts.”
And then there was a remarkable indictment on the Fox News website, from contributor Sally Kohn. “To anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech,” she wrote.
This is not a good place for the Romney-Ryan ticket to be. Romney’s biggest weakness is that he’s viewed, wrote former Labor Secretary Robert Reich in a Facebook post, as a man who “doesn’t have any core principles.”
On Thursday night, Romney had to show that he’s a regular guy and so “reduce the empathy gap,” as NBC’s Peter Alexander put it. But he also had to douse the flash fire about Republican credibility.
Romney did it by telling his personal story, focusing on sour economic conditions, and adroitly reminding us of Obama’s failures. He opened with a huge fib (that Republicans united behind the newly inaugurated Obama in 2009) and ended with another (that the U.S. has thrown Israel under the bus), but there was not much in his speech that needed fact-checking.
He was warm and corny. Sharp, without being mean. It was a very Reaganesque performance.
Did it accomplish what he hoped? I think so. But listen to the cacophony, not the instant analysts. We will know in a couple of days.