Speech By: Mitt Romney
Date: August 30, 2012
Location: Tampa, Florida
Occasion: Republican National Convention
Most people who will vote in the upcoming election know who Mitt Romney is by now, but it’s likely they have only seen him speak in the sound bites that make it on the evening news, or, if they followed the primary debates. This is likely the first time most Americans have had a chance to see him speak at length, by himself.
This was Romney’s first opportunity to show Americans if he had that quality which is best described as “looking Presidential.” Can we, as a people, imagine this man speaking from behind that desk in the Oval office, or before a joint session of Congress? Whether you agree with his policies or share his view of the future is not the question – can you imagine him addressing the nation or the world from the seat of power, is.
In that task, he did not disappoint.
The other task he faced was to use this platform to propel his campaign forward to victory. Polls all summer have shown the same thing. President Obama consistently gets between 46 and 47%, while Romney is a point or two down. That is very dangerous territory for a President seeking re-election.
For those unskilled in the art of reading political polls, this does not mean Obama is in the lead. The public knows him, and more than half do not particularly like how he has handled his time in office. They simply have not decided if they should give the office to a man they do not yet know – Romney.
Romney’s goal, in this speech, and the rest of the campaign, is to convince those undecided about his candidacy, to place their trust in him. Whether he succeeds or not won’t be known until Election Day. But he made no missteps in this speech.
Every challenger is less well-known than the incumbent. Romney’s task in this, his first major national appearance, was to introduce himself. This was even more important than tackling the issues. We all know what the issues are – they are why Obama can’t get to 50% in the polls. But Obama has a likability factor that Romney does not. Romney’s most important task in this speech was to make himself likable.
That’s why he spent more of his speech talking about family than about issues.
He spoke first about American optimism. It’s a good way to establish that vital shared identity which is essential to a good speech. It’s also a thinly-veiled reference to one of the criticisms of Obama’s world view – that he does not recognize American exceptionalism.
Then Romney spoke about what the poor economy means to American families. It’s another good way to create shared identity. It’s also a way to dismiss the Obama campaign’s attempts to define him as being so wealthy he’s out of touch with the American public.
From there, he transitions to talking about his own family. This is where he is going to let the country know who he is, what his values are. And he does that by talking about where his values come from – Mom and Dad.
A particularly poignant moment was this: “Mom and Dad were married 64 years. And if you wondered what their secret was, you could have asked the local florist – because every day Dad gave Mom a rose, which he put on her bedside table. That's how she found out what happened on the day my father died – she went looking for him because that morning, there was no rose.” At this moment, audible sighs can be heard from the audience – and they come almost entirely from women. He has touched their hearts.
For a candidate who polls say has trouble reaching women, this is the speechmaking equivalent of a Grand-slam Home Run!
He does get on to issues later in the speech – once we have learned who this man is and how he and Ann raised their own five boys.
He gets to the issues portion with this: “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.”
It’s a twist on Ronald Reagan’s famous phrase regarding Jimmy Carter’s Presidency – “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Notably, Reagan was in a similar situation to Romney at the time – people knew they weren’t happy with the incumbent, but they had serious doubts about the challenger.
And Romney also dispenses with some of the President’s campaign tactics against him: “And yet the centerpiece of the President's entire re-election campaign is attacking success. Is it any wonder that someone who attacks success has led the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression?”
Expect to hear more of that during the campaign.
While a speech like this is really targeted at the audience outside the arena, he still does a good job of involving the people in the room.
He uses the old rhetorical device of asking questions – to which they enthusiastically respond:
“Does the America we want borrow a trillion dollars from China? No.
Does it fail to find the jobs that are needed for 23 million people and for half the kids graduating from college? No.
Are its schools lagging behind the rest of the developed world? No.
And does the America we want succumb to resentment and division?” Ironically, in the prepared transcript given to the press, the last answer was supposed to be: “We know the answer.” He never got to say that last part, because the audience had already shouted an enthusiastic “No!”
With the audience involvement building, he ends with a pledge – and a call to action:
“If I am elected President of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it. And with your help we will deliver it. Let us begin that future together tonight.”
This speech didn’t win the election, but it’s an important stepping stone on the path to a victory.
Length (words): 4,096
Text Posted: NPR
Video Posted: CNN