Mitt Romney speaking on Saturday in Ohio
This week in Tampa, Florida, the Republican Party hold their National Convention, formally nominating Mitt Romney as its candidate in the Presidential election and presenting a platform of policy ideas that he will try to implement if he wins.
That is the theory behind the convention, and once upon a time it delivered the drama and spectacle that the principle promised. William Jennings Bryan electrified the 1896 Democratic Convention with his "Cross of Gold: speech. In 1964, the Republican Barry Goldwater, shortly after his conservative supporters loudly booed his moderate rival Nelson Rockefeller, proclaimed, "Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the defence of justice is no virtue." And in 1992, Pat Buchanan delivered a keynote address in support of Republican candidate George H. W. Bush which became known as the "Culture War" speech, including the admonition against Bill and Hillary Clinton:
The agenda Clinton & Clinton would impose on America --- abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units --- that's change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America needs. It is not the kind of change America wants. And it is not the kind of change we can abide in a nation we still call God's country.
These examples illustrate what Mitt Romney and his campaign staff will hope to avoid this week. In all three cases, the Convention speeches, and the tumultuous reception they received from most of the delegates in attendance, have been credited as contributors to the loss of the party's candidate in November. They represented a divergence between what the party faithful wanted from their candidate, a combative espousal of core values, against what the moderate centre of American voters desired from their President --- a more conciliatory approach that promised practical solutions to the nation's problems.
Despite the roster of renowned conservative politicians scheduled to speak at the convention, Romney's campaign will aim to present a bland espousal of generic conservative ideas with as little of the controversial and substantial as possible. We will witness a rally for vague concepts like "limited government" and 'individual freedom' designed to present a unified –-- and non-threatening --- Republican face to the rest of the nation. As long-time broadcast journalist Dan Rather lamented in an interview on Friday, this Convention, and the Democratic gathering that follows it, will be nothing more than "wind festivals of nothingness".
As a sign of the decreased relevance of Conventions, the major television networks have drastically reduced their prime-time coverage of the two events this year. They will not cover the first day of the Republican Convention, forcing organisers to move Ann Romney's speech to guarantee prime-time coverage, and will limit it to only an hour on the remaining days.
The media will still be there in force, with the official Convention website reporting that approximately 15,000 credentials will be issued, but the focus will be to bypass the print news outlets in the belief that they will not present the event in the desired light. Instead, organisers announced:
For the first time ever, the Republican National Convention is unveiling the Convention Without Walls, a Facebook app designed to make it easy for you to participate, follow and attend the Republican National Convention from anywhere. It’s as simple as installing our Facebook app and getting immediate access to exclusive content.
The Facebook app is supplemented by official coverage on the usual suspects of social media, including LinkedIn, Instagram, and Foursquare.
The Republican Convention is still important in that it gives Romney one last chance, before the critical television debates with President Obama, to project some personality into his campaign. In his acceptance speech Mitt needs to show that he can empathise with everyday Americans, those who do not employ tax accountants or make small bets of $10,000.
To date, the GOP candidate has appeared both wooden and false --- his smile rarely convinces a watcher that he is genuinely amused --- when appearing before the American people. On Thursday, that has to change: Romney needs to give the speech of his political career to convince the American voters who are just switching on to this electoral campaign that he has their interests at heart.