Mitt Romney, who delivered an enthusiastically received acceptance speech Thursday night, and his fellow Republicans ran head-long into the wind all week.
First it was Todd Akin, the Missouri congressman who all by himself threatened to flip the national dialogue from job creation to abortion politics following his ill-conceived comments on rape victims.
Then it was Hurricane Isaac that knocked one day off the Republican National Convention, then threatened to cancel more. And who would have thought that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as entertaining a speaker as there is in American politics, would deliver what some called a dud of a keynote address?
But Romney persevered through it all, not only surviving, but even thriving with an acceptance speech that nimbly pirouetted from a get-to-know-me introduction to the American people to an address that finally laid out in broad strokes a plan to jump-start a moribund U.S. economy.
Let there be no doubt: Many Republicans remain decidedly unenthusiastic about Romney as their nominee. But there is a glue holding Republicans nationwide together these days.
And its name is Barack Obama.
How good was Romney’s speech Thursday?
He appeared relaxed. He cracked a few jokes. He defended — defiantly — his business success.
Perhaps most importantly, he came off as presidential, and delivered an address chock-full of memorable lines:
• “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.”
• “This president cannot tell us that you are better off today than when he took office.”
• “I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour. America, he said, had dictated to other nations. No Mr. President, America has freed other nations from dictators.”
• “Many of you felt that way on Election Day four years ago. Hope and change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”
He also gracefully talked about his Mormon faith and sought to turn it into something far less threatening than many Americans regard it.
“We were Mormons and growing up in Michigan,” Romney said. “That might have seemed unusual or out of place but I really don’t remember it that way. My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we went to.”
He avoided mean-spirited attacks on Obama, but relied on well-turned phrases in a bid to take the president down a notch.
“This was the hope and change America voted for,” he said. “It’s not just what we wanted. It’s not just what we expected. It’s what Americans deserved. You deserved it because during these years, you worked harder than ever before.”
In a single speech, Romney pulled off a tough political feat: He switched the national conversation from a campaign about him, to a campaign about Obama and his performance in office.
Did he give the American people a better sense of who he is?
No question, and this was the strength of his speech at a time when so many voters tell pollsters they still don’t know much about him.
He talked about the unconditional love that his mother and father, the former Michigan governor, bestowed on him as a child. “They cared deeply about who we would be, and much less about what we would do,” he said.
Romney told family stories of the struggles of raising five sons. Romney said he traveled often on business during those years, leaving his wife to deal with much of the child-rearing.
“But every mom knows that doesn’t help get the homework done or the kids out the door to school,” Romney said.
And he tugged at heartstrings with this recollection: “Those weren’t the easiest of days — too many long hours and weekends working, five young sons who seemed to have this need to re-enact a different world war every night. But if you ask Ann and I what we’d give, to break up just one more fight between the boys, or wake up in the morning and discover a pile of kids asleep in our room. Well, every mom and dad knows the answer to that.”
Did he demonstrate that he’s up to the challenges facing the nation?
Yes. Romney briefly walked through the arc of his career: his time building Bain Capital and the struggles he faced along the way, his time as the Massachusetts governor.
His work rescuing the Olympic Games was left to a series of Olympic athletes who praised him prior to his speech.
He also spent a few minutes on foreign policy, a subject that’s received little attention so far in this campaign. Romney was particularly critical of the administration’s policies on Iran and Israel, declaring: “In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.”
And this: “President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus, even as he has relaxed sanctions on Castro’s Cuba.”
Did he lay out a specific plan for jump-starting the economy and creating jobs?
Not exactly. He listed a series of goals: make the country energy independent, emphasize job training and bolster American trade.
“And when nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences,” he said.
He made a staggering promise to create 12 million jobs, but he’s still lacking in the detail department.
Did he offer a bold new idea that excites independents and undecided voters?
No new ideas that will have people talking today. He rehashed proposals that he’s been talking about for months.
Despite Isaac and Akin, to what extent did the GOP convention boost his candidacy and the Republican cause?
A lot. Romney will get a boost in the polls in the wake of this convention — and maybe a significant one. Convention speeches are rarely deal-makers or breakers. But this one may resonate, if only because so many Americans still had so many questions about him and Romney tried to answer them resolutely.
Did he toss out a memorable line that will have people talking today?
He fell short of Ryan’s quote about a jobless college kid in his parent’s house staring up at fading Obama posters.
But he delivered this line with thunder in his voice: “Now is the moment when we can stand up and say, ‘I’m an American. I make my destiny. And we deserve better! My children deserve better! My family deserves better. My country deserves better!’ ”