On the final night of a slimmed-down and at times uneven Republican National Convention, Romney used his long-awaited address to call for national unity and conciliation, to “restore the promise of America.” He used somewhat gentler rebukes of President Obama — more disappointed father than angry uncle — as he pleaded with his party and his country to transfer to him the mantle of hope and change.
It was a shrewd tack, and a more presidential one, performed with the recognition that many Americans are still just forming first impressions of a man who has remained, in the public imagination, something of a riddle.
“That America, that united America” became a refrain, as Romney called for shared purpose — toward putting people back to work, caring for the poor and the sick, and preserving US military strength. In spirit, at times, it evoked Obama’s legendary lament at the 2004 Democratic National Convention about the red state-blue state divide.
Despite the harsh attacks that he, his campaign, and their Republican surrogates have leveled against Obama’s presidency this week, Thursday night was Romney’s moment to rise above all that, to appear, at least for a brief moment, high-minded and more personable. Fleeting or not, it was an approach that surely held appeal well beyond the partisan confines of the Tampa convention hall, even if the speech lacked the soaring rhetoric or cogency of the week’s best performers.
Romney had two key challenges coming into the convention. He had to make voters confident in his ability to fix the economy, but also comfortable with him as a potential president. He has, though, been famously stingy in talking about himself. His campaign book, “No Apology,” is so spare on personal details that he began the first chapter with these words: “I hate to weed.”
Whether he accomplished all he needed to remains an open question. But one of the most important tasks of the past few days — fleshing out who Mitt Romney is, and where he comes from — he achieved to a degree Thursday by revealing some emotion in talking about his five boys and by letting friends and supporters speak to his character.
Party leaders and TV viewers heard uplifting (and selectively chosen) stories about companies helped by Bain Capital. They heard of the loyalty he inspires among those close to him. They heard of his managerial aplomb as governor. But most notably they heard testimonials about his long and committed service within the Mormon church.