The Republicans should be wary of the full moon – nights of the full moon are notoriously strange, even if you don’t believe in werewolves and graves opening and that sort of thing. Last October, on the night of the full moon, they had that debate at Dartmouth that didn’t go well – the one where Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, then the rising star of that odd group, said everyone should consider his 999 economic plan – which he said was a simple solution to restructuring the tax system. Everyone else at the table said it was just a new national sales tax and a stupid idea, and then Michele Bachmann said that, upside down, the Cain plan was 666 – the Mark of the Devil. She seems to have meant that as a joke. And it went downhill from there. Then in November, again on the night of the full moon, they chose to debate in Michigan, near Detroit and all its woes. After all, this was a debate that would be limited to the issue of the economy, hosted by CNBC, the business channel, with a panel of their best business wonks. But it too was a disaster as that was the night the man who was to save the party from the oddballs, Rick Perry, the long tall Texan who wasn’t named Bush, and wasn’t boring and insufficiently conservative like Romney, thundered that when he became president the first thing he would do is eliminate three useless and thus dangerous agencies of the federal government – “Commerce, education and, the – uh – what’s the third one there? … Commerce, education and the uh, the uh… The third agency of government I would do away with – education, the, uh, commerce, and let’s see – I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
He was toast. In the Harry Potter books that insightful and kindly professor turns into a frightening and atavistic werewolf on the night of the full moon. Rick Perry turned into a clown. It was painful to watch, although Perry had his other odd moments, like suggesting that if Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, ever tried to set foot in Texas, well, Ben would get the full Jack-Kennedy-in-Dallas treatment. To be fair, Perry suggested Texans might merely string-up Ben Bernanke, not blow his brains out with a high-powered rifle – and he was just being colorful. He was folksy and blunt you see – a good thing. But on the night of the full moon it went all wrong. You could almost hear the dogs howling in the distance as the moon rose big and fat and round in the night sky. They know – Bad Moon Rising and all that.
This is all meaningless coincidence of course, but here we go again – August 30, the last day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, was to be Mitt Romney’s night. He would accept the party’s nomination, as the last man standing after all the others had sputtered out in foolishness, and he would give his big speech, showing the base he was a true Jesus-conservative and the nation that he wasn’t, that he was really a fine warm fellow, and quite reasonable, really. He had his work cut out for him. But the full moon was rising and it was one of those rare blue moons – the second full moon of the month, the extra full moon. Something had to go wrong.
Something did. It was the surprise guest speaker wedged into the evening’s schedule, Clint Eastwood, the libertarian actor-director, now old as the hills, wandering off in the weeds:
Clint Eastwood opened up the primetime portion of the Republican convention with a rambling, mumbling and often incoherent address next to an empty chair that was meant to represent President Obama.
A creaky Eastwood began by defending Hollywood’s notorious liberal reputation to the crowd, claiming that there were in fact many independents and Republicans in show business.
“Conservatives by their nature play it close to the vest, they don’t go around hot-dogging it,” he said.
He went on to act out an interview with the empty presidential chair that noted, among other topics, Obama’s inability to close Guantanamo Bay.
“I thought it was because somebody had a stupid idea of trying terrorists in downtown New York City,” Eastwood said.
No one knew what to make of that, or the full twelve minutes. He didn’t seem to have a prepared text – there was nothing to load into the teleprompter. He didn’t use one. He decided to wing it, which might not have been the best decision:
The crowd seemed alternately confused and rapturously excited by the display, cheering whenever he poked fun at Joe Biden and Obama.
“When somebody doesn’t do the job you got to let them go,” he said, to thundering applause.
Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, who often brackets Republican speeches with fact checks and statements, offered a one word response to Eastwood’s performance on Twitter: “Wow.”
From the Associated Press:
The crowd cheered Eastwood’s entrance as he shouted his famed catchphrase, “Go ahead, make my day.” But backstage, stern-faced Romney aides winced at times as Eastwood’s remarks stretched on.
From Josh Marshall:
I really like Clint Eastwood – amazing actor and director and just a really cool dude – but actually finding this a touch weird. … Okay, I want to walk gently on this one. But I don’t think that worked. Like some cool artifact with a lot of crust and gunk on it, if you scraped it all away there was something kind of cool there. But there was a lot of crust. It had some of the cadence of Admiral Stockdale, with a hint of dirty old man. Bizarre can be cool. But not sure it was the moment for bizarre.
The man was disconnected, or it was the full moon – but that was a minor matter. Eastwood isn’t running for office or advising anyone or even thinking about the issues much at all – he was window-dressing, and he was followed by Marco Rubio, who is in office and a rising political star. Talking Point Memo’s Evan McMorris-Santoro covers what Rubio was up to:
The Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) who showed up on the Republican National Convention podium Thursday night was not the Rubio who was pushing his party to change its tune on immigration just months ago.
In a speech that focused on working-class roots as the son of immigrants, Rubio became the latest Hispanic Republican to speak Spanish from the podium in Tampa but steer clear of pushing the party to change its tune on the issues advocates say are keeping more Hispanics from voting Republican.
He’s no longer angry at the party for sneering at Hispanics. He didn’t mention his plan to draft his own DREAM Act – one that Republicans could actually support and Democrats would have to accept. He caught a lot of crap from his own party, but now he knows better:
Instead, Rubio offered a compelling address full of personal anecdotes and attacks on Obama but light on substance. The central message was one of American exceptionalism, a crowd-pleaser in any GOP audience.
“Mitt Romney believes that if we succeed in changing the direction of our country, our children and grandchildren will be the most prosperous generation ever, and their achievements will astonish the world,” Rubio said.
Rubio is an articulate and pleasant fellow, but this was the same old stuff, and Andrew Sullivan argued with Rubio as the man went on and on with that stuff:
10.25 pm. Rubio is the un-Ryan. He’s not the attack dog. He has a great line: “Obama is a good person but a bad president.” I think that will be far more effective than the vicious attacks of the last two days. Rubio, however, has just lied. Obama has never said that people get rich by making people poor. Where has he said that? When? Or is this another invention?
10.32 pm. Rubio just ruled atheists out of being Americans. But it’s the smugness of this pathological patriotism that strikes me most. Which means it’s not patriotism; it is a solipsistic nationalism. Notice too that we have heard not a single policy proposal from the podium tonight. Not one. Just manipulative emotionalism so far…
10.33 pm. Again, it seems to me that this speech is more about Rubio than Romney. The Romney biographical arc was building, and then Eastwood gave us surrealism and Rubio gave us total blather. Romney has been lost – and he’s way late, which cannot be making him happy backstage.
Ah well, the nonsense petered-out and it was Romney’s turn, finally. And the New York Times’ account of what happened next is fairly straightforward:
Mitt Romney accepted the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday by making a direct appeal to Americans who were captivated by President Obama’s hopeful promises of change, pledging that he could deliver what the president did not and move the country from its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The speech by Mr. Romney, delivered on the closing night of the Republican convention, signaled an attempt to redefine the race around his business background, which Democrats have spent the summer attacking. He urged voters not to feel guilty about giving up on Mr. Obama, even if they were proud to support him as the nation’s first black president.
“You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president,” Mr. Romney said, “when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”
So folks, don’t feel guilty for voting for old Mitt. Obama is a nice guy but just wasn’t up to the task, and by the way, that bastard Obama has “thrown Israel under the bus.” It was a mixed message, which included this:
“This president can tell us it was someone else’s fault. This president can tell us that the next four years he’ll get it right,” Mr. Romney said. “But this president cannot tell us that you are better off today than when he took office.”
Bush did nothing wrong, or at least he doesn’t matter now, and Bush was better with the bad guys:
He said the president had “abandoned our friends in Poland,” been duped by Iran and been too weak toward Russia.
“Every American was relieved the day President Obama gave the order and SEAL Team 6 took out Osama bin Laden,” Mr. Romney said. “But on another front, every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat.”
Romney has long favored bombing the snot out of Iran, right now. His foreign policy advisors are essentially the entire Bush team. Romney himself doesn’t think about such things much – he’s a businessman.
Oh yeah, he also threw a sop to women:
“When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way,” Mr. Romney said, parceling out another piece of his biography. “I can still hear her saying in her beautiful voice, ‘Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?'”
That’s probably not going to close the gap, nor may this:
Throughout the evening, Mr. Romney’s life story unspooled before the Republican delegates inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Testimonials were intended to reshape perceptions about Mr. Romney that have hardened after a negative television advertising campaign from the president and his Democratic allies. Business owners, longtime friends, Olympic athletes and fellow Mormons offered personal anecdotes to help humanize Mr. Romney.
The stories were intended to help build a fuller picture of Mr. Romney, who has been reluctant to talk about some details of his private life. During his speech, he also talked about his Mormon faith, a subject he rarely raises during the campaign, saying, “My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we went to.”
He beamed as he recalled his childhood in Michigan, where his father was governor and a Republican presidential candidate in 1968. He struck out on his own, saying: “If I stayed around Michigan in the same business, I never would know if I got a break because of my dad.”
He got personal. That may not win him the presidency, and there were some immediate reactions, like Will Wilkinson in the Economist with this:
Mr Romney’s acceptance speech didn’t rock the rafters, but that’s not his style. What he did manage to do was – for once – make himself feel emotionally present, and not so canned. He told Americans they deserve better than Obama, and he made the case that he’ll do better as clearly and forcefully as he ever has. I don’t think he has it in him to do much better. It may be good enough.
Josh Marshall doesn’t think so:
On balance, I thought it was fairly weak as a speech. He’s the underdog and he’s the guy who needs to have a galvanizing introduction to the general public. In those terms, it was a missed opportunity – a pretty big one.
Time’s Joe Klein says the speech was actually very smart:
I am not sure the speech was “a game-changer.” I am not sure it “moved the needle.” I’m not sure it will be remembered beyond tomorrow, or that it was watched by sufficient numbers of people tonight to make a difference. But it did lay down a subtle challenge for the President: Explain why your contract should be extended. Explain it in a way we can understand. And it laid down a stylistic challenge as well: in these difficult times, is it really necessary for you to accept your nomination in a football field in front of 74,000 people (as Obama will next week)? Do we really need those bread and circuses?
That’s a good question, but maybe not good enough, as Peter Suderman saw less here than he wanted:
Romney managed to say even less about what he would do as president than he usually does. Despite Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s promise earlier today that Romney would discuss his plans for the country in “granular” detail, Romney offered almost nothing in the way of a governing vision, much less specific legislative goals. Instead, he criticized Obama for running up too much debt, and, in practically the same breath, for cutting spending on Medicare and the defense budget. Vote Republican!
Bloomberg’s Josh Barro agrees with that:
Romney is shallow and incoherent on policy for strategic reasons. He attacks from whichever direction is likely to be effective – even if that means getting to the president’s left, as on Medicare – and keeps the focus on Obama’s failures. Getting too specific might lead people to focus on Romney instead. That strategy might be enough to win the election. But it does not help the public figure out how Romney would run the country.
That’s probably why the Guardian’s Gary Younge calls Romney a “tin man”:
Under the circumstances it was probably the best speech he could have given. And that’s the problem. He’s still Mitt Romney. He’s solid and business-like; deliberate and plodding. He’s standing as a CEO and he talks like a CEO. He’s more comfortable in front of a PowerPoint than a crowd. There’s no crime in that. But when the balloons have been released and the confetti scattered there is not a lot of political mileage in it either. The audience came to its feet out of duty not spontaneity. They would love him to win but they don’t love him. They never have.
Jonathan Bernstein is more direct:
A generic speech and a generic convention for a generic Republican candidate…
That’s cold, and there’s also Andrew Sullivan’s verdict:
It was good night for improving Mitt’s personal image; but a sad evening for an actual reality-based critique of Obama’s record, or a coherent set of proposals for the future. He has one argument: the economy sucks and you should fire the president because of it. That’s it.
I thought Bush’s two acceptance speeches and McCain’s were much better. In a word: mediocre, and deeply dishonest as an argument.
Andrew Sullivan has problems with the specifics, like this:
Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That president was not the choice of our party but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than divides us.
In the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s, in his first weeks in office, the GOP monolithically voted against his stimulus, including the third that were tax cuts. They even opposed tax cuts because Obama proposed them! Mitch McConnell said the following out loud: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Americans did not come together. One party, Mitt’s, set out from the get-go to destroy Obama’s presidency, regardless of the impact of the recession, which they helped intensify by slashing public sector jobs across the country and blocking any new stimulus after 2010.
And Sullivan doesn’t like what Romney said about the situation in early 2009:
Every small business wanted these to be their best years ever, when they could hire more, do more for those who had stuck with them through the hard times, open a new store or sponsor that Little League team. Every new college graduate thought they’d have a good job by now, a place of their own, and that they could start paying back some of their loans and build for the future. This is when our nation was supposed to start paying down the national debt and rolling back those massive deficits.
Again, this is surreal. As the country was losing jobs at a rate of what can only be called free-fall, did everyone expect a sudden immediate boom, the best years of their lives? Was that the time when we should have suddenly started cutting spending? Romney knows this line of argument is premised on a fantasy. It’s as if Romney cannot address the actual reality and propose solutions, but chooses to invent an entire alternative universe in which he can invent dreams no one in February 2009 had, listening to an Inaugural Address that told them that affairs were grim and foreboding and difficult.
There’s more but it comes down to this:
We are testing a hypothesis. Can a campaign be based on lies that are premised on a deeper invention of the past – and still win? … We will find out. But what is at stake is the very empirical basis of our democratic debate. Are we about to live in a post-truth world? Is the Republican belief-system about to replace reality?
Maybe so or maybe it was just the full moon. On the other hand there’s Michael Moore:
I think people should start to practice the words “President Romney.” To assume that the other side is just a bunch of ignoramuses who are supported by people who believe that Adam and Eve rode on dinosaurs 6,000 years ago is to completely misjudge the opposition. And they not only are smart. They are dedicated. They are disciplined. They have the courage of their convictions.
If we don’t watch out, every night will be the night of the full moon.