By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower
TAMPA, Fla. — Yesterday, we wrote that Mitt Romney had four objectives with his acceptance speech: 1) better introduce himself to the public, 2) close the empathy gap, 3) get American voters to be comfortable with him as president, and 4) put more meat on the policy bone. He accomplished those first two goals, especially if you were in the convention hall or watching the live feed in the 8:00 pm hour. The testimonials from families who had lost loved ones during the time Romney played a key role in his church were powerful, and there were tears in the audience after these families told their stories. It was something we hadn’t seen from Romney or his campaign before. But how many people saw that? You didn’t if you only tuned in for the primetime hour beginning at 10:00 pm, which began with Clint Eastwood’s very unusual introduction (more on that below). On the empathy question, Romney also delivered this line that was very effective: “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.”
*** And what he didn’t: So the campaign largely succeeded on those first two objectives. But on the last two? Not as much. On getting American voters more comfortable with him as president, Romney made a stronger case — and devoted more time — to why Obama should be fired than why Romney should be hired. Indeed, the speech was heavy on trying to channel disappointment with the current president. One example: “I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division.” Yet Romney didn’t make the case how he could get past the current division, polarization and gridlock, especially given how these campaigns are currently conducting themselves. And as for more meat on the policy bone, we didn’t get it. Romney discussed his five-step plan on the economy — take advantage of domestic energy sources, give Americans the job skills they need, encourage free trade, cut the deficit, and lower taxes. But outside the budget deficit, none of those steps is any different than what George W. Bush pursued when he was president. And this was surprising, but Romney never mentioned the word “Afghanistan” once. By not putting more meat on the policy bone and by not differentiating his policies from Bush’s, Romney left the Obama campaign a lot of room to work with.
*** Nostalgic optimism vs. Forward: If you could sum up the majority of Romney’s acceptance speech it would be with these two words: nostalgic optimism. Per NBC’s Sarah Blackwill, Romney used the word “restore” three times (” Now is a time to restore the promise of America”). And he vowed to “return” to the foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And the message of nostalgic optimism — to the time of his father and mother — was typified by this line: “I was born in the middle of the century in the middle of the country, a classic baby boomer. It was a time when Americans were returning from war and eager to work. To be an American was to assume that all things were possible. When President Kennedy challenged Americans to go to the moon, the question wasn’t whether we’d get there, it was only when we’d get there.” But looking backwards only gets you so far; after all, another story of America is moving forward. And that word “forward” happens to be the slogan of the man Romney is trying to unseat.
*** Shades of Dole in ’96? In fact, Romney’s message of a return to yesteryear made us think of Bob Dole’s message in his 1996 acceptance speech. “Let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquillity, faith, and confidence in action,” Dole said. “And to those who say it was never so, that America has not been better, I say, you’re wrong, and I know, because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember… We have fought and prevailed on almost every continent and in almost every sea. We have even lost, but we have lasted, and we have always come through. Like Dole (Greatest Generation) vs. Clinton (Baby Boomer), Romney vs. Obama is a battle between generations, too.
*** Romney’s pitch to women: Another thing struck us about Romney’s speech: He made a direct pitch to women voters. He said of his mother, “I wish she could have been here at the convention and heard leaders like Gov. Mary Fallin, Gov. Nikki Haley, Gov. Susana Martinez, Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. As governor of Massachusetts, I chose a woman Lt. governor, a woman chief of staff, half of my cabinet and senior officials were women, and in business, I mentored and supported great women leaders who went on to run great companies.” If you didn’t think the Romney camp knows the gender gap is an issue, you know now…
*** Go ahead — make our day: And finally, we come to the story that’s likely to be the subject of late-night comedians — and that’s still the talk of Tampa: Clint Eastwood. After all of the scripting, Eastwood delivered a 10 minute-plus rambling speech, part of which was an imaginary interview with President Obama. Romney World has to ask itself: Why Eastwood over the touching Romney video in the primetime hour? Why Eastwood over those touching stories about Romney? The word we’ve received about Eastwood from the Romney camp is this: The Obama campaign is dedicated to tearing down Romney, and an American icon like Eastwood is on Romney’s side.
*** Yet another unforced error: Unfortunately for the Romney campaign, Eastwood was yet another unforced error. Of course, all campaigns make them — Obama made one when he allowed Republicans to seize on his “You didn’t build that” line. But Romney and his campaign stumble on the EASIEST of situations. Remember the speech at Ford Field in Detroit? Romney questioning London’s readiness before the Olympics? All were unforced errors, and all were VERY avoidable.
*** On the trail: Romney and Ryan hold a farewell rally in Lakeland, FL at 10:00 am ET and stump in Richmond, VA at 2:00 pm ET… Obama speaks at Fort Bliss, TX at 2:45 pm ET… And Biden campaigns in Lordstown, OH at 11:00 am.