Duality was the governing concept on the first night of the Republican convention.
On the airwaves, television coverage veered between Hurricane Isaac and the Republican National Convention. And inside the Tampa arena, two dissonant campaign themes were squeezed into a storm-truncated program: the idea that Mitt Romney is a warm and loving man, and the notion that the GOP wouldn’t coddle Americans with warmth and love.
Mitt Romney’s hopes for a triumphant coronation may depend on how well voters sift through the discord. “There might be a problem with the optics,” said Chris Jansing, on MSNBC.
Television coverage was spotty. The cable channels stuck with the surging surf and hurricane winds for most of the day and evening. When the broadcasts did return to the convention hall, it was to hear from fat-chewing analysts, and not to record what was happening.
The cable guys may be forgiven; the day was noticeably short on stars. When it came time for Romney to be formally nominated, that historic duty was given to a has-been, former Gov. John Sununu of New Hampshire. The broadcasters seemed lulled to sleep, with only CNN noting—somewhat parenthetically—that Ron Paul’s delegates were mighty steamed over the snubbing they had received from the Romney forces.
Then came the two marquee speeches, alike in import but so different in tone.
Ann Romney, in a sweet and cheery prime-time performance, sought to soften the image of her sometimes-awkward multimillionaire husband. Her life with Mitt was more than Cadillacs, jet skis, and horse shows, she told the delegates. Her family knows the adversities that average families—and especially America’s moms—must face.
“Tonight, I want to talk to you from my heart,” she said, in fine Sarah Palin mode. “I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage.’ Well, let me tell you something: In the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or breast cancer,” she said, referring to her battles with those illnesses. “A storybook marriage? Nope. Not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.”
Her task was to “undo the caricature and create the new narrative,” said Democratic consultant Joe Trippi, a talking head on Fox. She gave it her all.
Playing the yang to her yin was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—“the id of the party,” as essayist Touré said on MSNBC—who shouted his way through a call for conservative fiscal values in the convention keynote address. Christie left most of his bullying ways back in Joisey, but he threw hooks at pandering Democrats, labor unions, and greedy teachers. There was none of Ann Romney’s sweetness.
Romney: “Tonight I want to talk to you about love.”
Christie: “Tonight we choose respect over love. We are not afraid. We are taking our country back.”
Before the prime-time hour, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis sounded similar themes as precursors for Christie, telling middle-class families how the Democrats had failed them. It was the dominant GOP narrative for Day Two, but not the only one. On Tuesday, the convention didn’t just have competition from Isaac; it had competition from itself.