Disconnects From Tampa

NBC’s First Read offered a take on last night’s big speeches from Tampa that nicely captured one way of looking at it (as reflected in my live-blog joke that after Ann Romney’s tribute to “love,” Chris Christie was going to bring the hate):

Ann Romney humanizing her husband and delivering a well-received speech, check. Chris Christie hitting the Democrats and President Obama, as well as making the case that leadership requires tough choices, check. Individually, last night’ two primetime speeches here at the Republican convention accomplished what they set out to do. But taken together, they represented a clash in tone — with Ann Romney telling the audience she wanted to talk about the power of love, and with Christie declaring, “Tonight, we’re going to choose respect over love.” Christie later added, “Our ideas are right for America, and their ideas have failed America.” Either speech could have concluded the night, but the two addresses didn’t mix well; it was like a meal of blueberry pancakes and ribeye steak, or a dessert of pickles and ice cream. There wasn’t a unifying message, so the parts seemed greater than the whole.

I dunno. I think this analysis misses an even bigger disconnect between what we are hearing from the Romney campaign over the airwaves and in speeches and what we are hearing from Tampa. It’s taken a while to come to grips with this, but based on the ad resources devoted to particular topics, the Romney/Ryan campaign is currently depicting its champions as defenders of the status quo trying to protect virtuous, hard-working Americans from an administration that’s hellbent on looting them via the destruction of work-based welfare reform and a “raid” on Medicare. It’s the classic strategem of “seizing the political center” not by moving there with policy proposals but by describing “the other side” as extremist.

But then we tune into Tampa, and one big speech is defending Mitt’s basic humanity against presumptions he’s a soulless plutocrat, while the other is challenging Americans to “man up” and embrace the painful but necessary prescriptions Doctor Mitt is dispensing to keep the country from flatlining.

I think there’s less conflict between Ann Romney’s and Chris Christie’s speeches than there is between the convention message and the central thrust of the actual campaign. It will be interesting to see which way Paul Ryan goes tonight: will he coo and bill and try to convince watchers he just wants to protect his mama from that mean old Barack Obama who doesn’t like old white folks and wants to give her money to those people, or exult in the radicalism that made him a conservative icon? We’ll see, but so far this convention looks like it was planned by a committee and everybody got a piece of the action.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.