TAMPA—In accepting the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday after an eight-year quest for it, Mitt Romney opened a new chapter of his campaign: his closing argument to the American people.
Before the largest television audience he has drawn as a political figure, the former Massachusetts governor sought to humanize himself by talking about his family history and personal life.
He confronted headlong his critics by defending the business career that Democrats have attacked but which he argues leaves him better equipped than President Obama to restore and grow the nation’s economy.
And he reached for the stars, literally with a tribute to astronaut Neil Armstrong on the eve of his burial, and figuratively with soaring rhetoric that underscored he is not only running to become the nation’s CEO and commander in chief, but its inspirational leader.
“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed,” Romney said as he stood at the focal point of the Republican National Convention. “But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. This isn’t something we have to accept. Now is the moment when we can do something. With your help we will do something.”
As with a State of the Union speech, a nomination acceptance speech encompasses a laundry list of elements. Along with the three traditional fall debates, such speeches give presidential candidates an unfiltered moment in the general election campaign to make their pitch.
Romney touched on all the requisite points with emotion and without distraction, even as protestors twice interrupted him and the crowd shouted them down with chants of “USA.”
The 65-year-old ran through his history, making a subtle appeal to Hispanics by talking about his father’s birth in Mexico and his emigration to the United States to flee the Mexican revolution. He omitted the part about how his forefathers initially fled the US itself for Mexico so they were free to maintain the then-Mormon practice of polygamy.
Romney brought up his faith, even describing his Michigan family’s practice of it outside the Mountain West as perhaps unusual, “even though I don’t remember it that way.”
He then segued into another subtle appeal, this one to women voters who polls still show favor Obama. He talked about his parent’s 64-year marriage, and how his mother was led to discover his father dead (in the family’s exercise room) when she didn’t receive her daily rose on her bedside table when she awoke.
Mitt Romney saluted Lenore Romney by talking about her unsuccessful campaign for a US Senate seat by recalling her line: “Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?”
An hour after his former running mate, Kerry Healey, attested to their State House partnership during her own convention address, Romney hailed this generation’s crop of female—and Republican—leaders in the form of several governors and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
Romney completed that segment with a tribute to his wife, Ann, who had wowed the convention audience on Tuesday with a speech aimed at underscoring the humanity of a man often depicted as an emotionless technocrat.
He recalled the challenges she confronted in raising a brood of five sons, often as Romney himself traveled.
“I knew that her job as a mom was harder than mine. And I knew without question, that her job as a mom was a lot more important than mine,” Romney said.
Romney returned to the subject of religion, not to explain away the unknown or misunderstood practices of his faith but, rather, to connect it to other religions by highlighting its common spirit of community and tradition.
“We prayed together, our kids played together, and we always stood ready to help each other out in different ways,” he said.
Romney then moved into his attack on the Obama presidency, recalling the hope many Americans felt in 2008 when they elected the nation’s first black president and contrasting it with the despair and frustration many still feel nearly four years later.
“The president hasn’t disappointed you because he wanted to,” Romney said in a respectful appeal to undecided voters. “The president has disappointed America because he hasn’t led America in the right direction. He took office without the basic qualification that most Americans have and one that was essential to his task: He had almost no experience working in a business. Jobs, to him, are about government.”
That provided a natural transition to the description and defense of a business career that made him a multi-millionaire but which Obama and his campaign have tried to transform into a millstone by highlighting the failures and layoffs along the way.
Romney described the launch of Bain Capital as a risky venture, joking that he was so uncertain of its success that he was unwilling to ask his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to invest part of its pension fund in it.
“I figured it was bad enough that I might lose my investors’ money, but I didn’t want to go to hell, too,” he said to laughter.
Romney added to it when he said: “Shows what I know. Another of my partners got the Episcopal Church pension fund to invest. Today, there are a lot of happy retired priests who should thank him.”
Romney and his speechwriting team then applied a deft maneuver to defend the Boston-based Bain from its critics, citing its investment in companies that, today, are household names and familiar especially to his opponent.
“An office supply company called Staples—where I’m pleased to see the Obama campaign has been shopping,” he said. “We started an early childhood learning center called Bright Horizons that first lady Michelle Obama rightly praised.”
Romney said his corporate failures and successes taught him the intricacies of job creation, a portfolio he said Obama lacks.
“Business and growing jobs is about taking risk, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, but always striving,” he said, citing Steve Jobs’s own firing by Apple before returning to turn it into the world’s most valuable company.
“That is why every president since the Great Depression who came before the American people asking for a second term could look back at the last four years and say with satisfaction: ‘you are better off today than you were four years ago.’ Except Jimmy Carter. And except this president,” said Romney.
“America has been patient. Americans have supported this president in good faith,” he added. “But, today, the time has come to turn the page. Today the time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us.”
Reciting what he labeled as a litany of administration missteps, Romney said, “To the majority of Americans who now believe that the future will not be better than the past, I can guarantee you this: if Barack Obama is re-elected, you will be right.”
Romney then turned toward the closing argument of the first speech in his closing argument to American voters this fall.
In a verbal PowerPoint presentation, he ticked through a five-point plan he said would not only end the Great Recession but create 12 million new jobs.
They included energy independence by 2020 through a focus on domestic supplies and technologies; education investment and more beneficial trade agreements; and repealing Obama’s health care overhaul, which he said is burdened with harmful tax increases.
He added one final appeal to his party’s conservative base, promising to oppose abortion and gay marriage while promoting religious freedom.
He also made a final pitch to independents by promising a singular focus on job creation.
“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” Romney deadpanned, eliciting laughter. “My promise ... is to help you and your family.”
And Romney put the world on notice by outlining the foreign policy he would pursue as president. He mocked Obama for being caught earlier this year, in a moment of candor picked up by a live microphone, telling Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev to let his successor, Vladimir Putin, known he would have more “flexibility” with missile defense negotiations after he was safely assured of a second term.
“Under my administration, our friends will see more loyalty, and Mr. Putin will see a little less ‘flexibility’ and more backbone," Romney said.
The freshly minted Republican nominee closed by focusing on what he would do to unite the country, a contrast, he said, with Obama’s effort to pit elements of it against one another.
As Romney spoke, the video screens forming his backdrop displayed a highly detailed image of the weave and stitching of an American flag.
“Everywhere I go in America, there are monuments that list those who have given their lives for America,” Romney said. “There is no mention of their race, their party affiliation, or what they did for a living. They lived and died under a single flag, fighting for a single purpose. They pledged allegiance to the United States of America.”
By the time his speech reached this crescendo, the crowd had warmed to Romney, its unremarkable initial applause turning into lusty cheers.
It paralleled the way the Republican Party at large seemed to surrender its doubts about him and come to accept the former governor as he steadily vanquished his rivals throughout this year’s primary process.
With the presidential nomination in hand and the GOP now aligned behind him, Romney has 10 weeks to convince more undecided Americans than the president they should believe not just in America, as the Republican’s campaign slogan suggests, but in him, too.