Republican National Convention Preview
5. Artur Davis (Tuesday)
Former Alabama Rep. Artur Davis slides into the Zell Miller-Joe Lieberman vengeful ex-boyfriend/girlfriend role at this year’s convention. Davis was a popular Democratic congressman and early Obama supporter who decided to try to become governor of Alabama, and in trying to tack to the right in advance of a statewide general election, bungled his triangulation strategy so badly that he got knocked off in the primary. The Democratic electorate saw right through his blatant pandering to white Alabama conservatives who were never going to vote for him anyway, and gave him the dubious honor of becoming the first black candidate in an Alabama-wide race to lose the black vote.
Mitt Romney, who was last polled as receiving 0 percent of the black vote, is not going to make inroads with that community with the endorsement of Davis, now a Virginia Republican and National Review contributor. I’m not sure what he or the party hopes to gain with a Davis speech, but I don’t see how it’s at all an advantage to have a deeply unpopular ex-politician who is now widely regarded as somewhat of a party traitor playing the disaffected former supporter role.
4. Mike Huckabee (Wednesday)
Despite his preacher background and evangelical base, the ex-governor of Arkansas and current Fox News host’s 2008 speech touched only briefly on “values” and was more about the economy and American exceptionalism. Huck has now emerged as the highest-profile supporter of rapist rights advocate and Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, whom he defended in a Friday night conference call in which he denounced leading Republicans, like the two men topping the ticket, for trying to push Akin out of the race.
Huckabee still enjoys a lot of popularity with the evangelical base, much of which is still not sold on Romney (which is how a creepy weirdo like Rick Santorum won several Southern states), but isn’t exactly going to vote for a biracial Hawaiian who has said things like this:
“Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”
To those that make up the Huckabee base, those might as well be the words of Stalin, and Stalin would probably be likelier to get their votes than Obama. Huck’s speech isn’t important as much in bringing evangelicals into the Romney tent as it is in providing potential fodder for the Democrats if Huck aligns himself (and by association the national party) too closely with the type of extremist anti-woman ideas on contraception as recently espoused by Todd Akin and others in the Republican establishment.
3. Chris Christie (Tuesday)
Chris Christie is one of the most popular Republican politicians among the entire electorate, and I think his choice as keynote speaker is one of the savvier Republican moves.
Josh Barro at Bloomberg previewed Christie’s speech by noting this key component of his political persona:
“It’s not a message you hear often from Republicans these days, but Christie sells compromise as a virtue. And it works because his tough-guy image allows him to cut deals in the political center without looking weak to conservatives.”
This is pretty much the opposite of Mitt Romney, whose weak-guy image doesn’t even allow him to take credit for the signature political deal he cut with the opposition party when he was governor of Massachusetts. Mitt has to co-sign a lot of stuff that deep down I’m sure he doesn’t fully endorse, because he still has to earn the trust of the Republican base. The Republican base doesn’t want to mess with Chris Christie.
Christie has been one of the most loyal and faithful Romney surrogates in this race, but his force of personality and broad appeal might eclipse the less interesting headliner, just like one Barack Obama did in 2004. Assuming Romney-Ryan lose, Christie is well-positioned for a 2016 run regardless, but having the prime speaking slot gives him a great opportunity to really introduce himself to a wider audience, while making the case that his buddy Mitt Romney is the right guy to expand the American economy.
2. Paul Ryan (Wednesday)
Paul Ryan is a charismatic enough guy with a polished fake pleasant demeanor who can speak articulately about science-fiction social policy and economic theories not based on math. I don’t think his speech is going to matter all that much—people who already think he knows what he’s talking about are going to accept whatever false wonkery he lays out at face value, and everyone else will tune out.
His speech accepting the vice presidential nomination was remarkably free of specifics and full of clichés, and I’d expect more of that from a career politician. Ryan, out of all the speakers, has the most to gain by being as vague as possible, so look for a lot of talk about freedom and liberty and not too much about premium supports.
1. Mitt Romney (Thursday)
Mitt’s main task is to convince a skeptical American public that he cares about people other than the very rich, or can at least fake it long enough to satisfy them. His 2008 convention speech is full of the same empty language and vague promises that make up his 2012 campaign strategy. Plenty of his lines could easily be lifted and dropped into this week’s speech and would not look out of place, and some of them make no sense in any context, like this one:
“Our economy is under attack. China is acting like Adam Smith on steroids, buying oil from the world’s worst, and selling nuclear technology. Russia and the oil states are siphoning more than 500 billion dollars a year from us in what could become the greatest transfer of economic wealth in history. This is no time for timid, liberal empty gestures.”
The conventional wisdom is that Mitt needs to use his speech to win over enough independents to tilt the race in the six or seven states that are in the balance and will decide this race. The problem is that despite being well-situated as an opposition business candidate in an economic election, by being an Etch-a-Sketch throughout the campaign and a secretive rich guy throughout his life, he has aligned himself with far-right economic policies that turn off the type of swing voters in Colorado and Iowa that he needs.
President Obama does actually have political vulnerabilities on foreign policy with certain elements of the Democratic base, with his extensive use of drone strikes and military commitment in Afghanistan, but Romney seems to not have much of an interest in foreign policy unless it is taking place in 1985. Look for a slightly updated version of his 2008 speech, with a similar presidential election result for the Republican Party.
Reach Staff Columnist Matt Pressberg here.