Godly American Businessman: How the RNC Marketed Mitt Romney

Seeking to define himself to voters at long last, Romney showcases the two most complicated parts of his profile: Mormonism and Bain Capital. romneyRNCvsign.banner.reuters.jpg

Reuters

TAMPA -- Paradoxically, the bar was high for Mitt Romney's speech to the Republican convention not because much was expected of him but because it was not.

In six years of campaigning for the presidency, he has managed to leave such a hazy and sour impression in the minds of the mass of American voters that he is barely regarded as a human being. In the days and hours leading up to Romney's big moment, delegate after delegate at the convention told me, with a glint of panicked hope in their eyes, that in Romney's speech he would finally have a chance to introduce himself -- to seem real, to be understood.

To succeed, Romney would have to give a speech so convincing that it would wash away all the preconceptions, cementing an image of himself so robust in voters' minds that the version of him in his opponents' attacks would clash with what they knew and fall flat. That, surely, was why the signs the crowd waved said "BELIEVE!" The whole project was to create, for the first time, a Romney to believe in.

To do that, Romney took a risk. The program showcased the two most difficult and avoided parts of his biography -- his religion and his business career. Was it really wise, I wondered, to make his major statement of self, in essence, "I am a Mormon who worked in private equity"? But the succession of speakers from Romney's church were genuinely moving, putting to shame the parade of politicians who had taken the stage previously. When a Massachusetts woman named Pam Finlayson told how Romney brought over Thanksgiving dinner when her daughter was undergoing brain surgery -- and how he called, 26 years later, in the middle of a presidential campaign, with condolences at her death -- the audience hushed with emotion.

The pro-Bain campaign was a bit less successful. Bob White, Romney's ubiquitous friend from his Bain days, spoke mostly in generalities about what he called an "investment firm." Tom Stemberg, the founder of Staples, ruined a potentially good tale of an entrepreneur with a dream by veering instead into a talk-radio-worthy partisan rant against Romney's enemies who "just don't get it!" And a parade of former Olympic athletes, while inspiring and patriotic, just didn't seem relevant.

At this point, something must be said about Clint Eastwood, the 82-year-old Hollywood star whose endorsement was deemed to be so potent and desirable that he was allowed to take the stage totally without a script, accompanied by an empty chair. The chair turned out to be a stand-in for an imaginary President Obama, with whom Eastwood proceeded to have a dialogue. The result was surely the most surreal moment in modern political convention history, about which there is little to be said except that you must see it for yourself. Afterward, a Romney campaign aide dryly told reporters Eastwood's remarks had been "ad-libbed."

Fortunately for Romney, the next speaker was the Republican Party's hands-down greatest public speaker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who made a remarkable recovery from the Eastwood madness. And then it was Romney's turn.

Presented by

Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In