The entire Republican National Convention was based on a bad inside joke.
Did you hear the one about the president saying you didn’t build your business? Except he clearly meant you didn’t build the roads and bridges and schools we all use. But let’s pretend he didn’t say that and base our entire convention on it!
And how was this joke supposed to engage or reassure Americans who are out of work or worried because their house is under water? No one bothered to explain. Instead we heard a constant refrain of “We built this!” and cutaway shots to a debt clock that reminded people which president built the surplus and which president blew it.
In contrast, the Democratic National Convention seemed designed to reach key constituents of the president’s winning 2008 coalition. In the early hours, Democrats reassured young people, union workers, Latinos, and women that Democrats champion their issues. In prime time, they targeted the Democratic base with Michele Obama. Bill Clinton spoke directly to swing voters. Finally, Vice President Biden and President Obama made their case to the middle class.
The results were clear: Almost zero bump for Romney, and, to date, as much as a seven-point bump for the president. With a bump like that, shouldn’t Todd Akin demand that it be carried to a second term?
Still, Mitt Romney did one thing right at his convention. He kept the crazy off the stage, or at least out of prime time — almost.
Rick Santorum made a speech about “hands” – not in prime time. Newt Gingrich appeared with his second trophy wife to deliver a benediction on St. Reagan – even earlier in the evening than Santorum. Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann worked the crowd but didn’t make it up on stage. Sarah Palin wasn’t even invited. Birther Donald Trumps’s lame sketch where he likely fired an Obama impersonator was cut completely from the agenda.
Romney even attempted to lurch toward the center by having Clint Eastwood – from Hollywood! – perform a bit of improv before the former governor’s biggest speech of his life. The Eastwood monologue played more like a parody of a Romney supporter than a plea to the center. But it was an attempt.
So what did Mitt do as soon as the Democratic convention was over? He appeared with possibly the most notoriously extreme member of the U.S. House of Representatives – Steve King.
Then the next day he appeared at a speech with extremist icon Pat Robertson.
Steve King is a man who could only be elected in the sort of “I need my guns to stop the gays from marrying” district he represents in Iowa. His kook resume of defending dog-fighting, comparing immigrants to dogs, and defending Todd Akin’s comments about rape victims having innate powers to prevent pregnancy is bad enough. But at least he represents voters in a state Mitt needs to win.
Pat Robertson’s biggest problem as a campaign supporter is the fact that he speaks for hours every day on television, in an era when recording television broadcasts is easy. His second biggest problem is that he’s Pat Robertson.
Robertson has said that Islam is not a religion. When Jerry Fawell came on Robertson’s show in the days after 9/11 the preacher blamed the attack on “the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle.” Robertson concurred immediately. In the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake in Haiti, Robertson blamed the catastrophe on a pact the Haitians had made with the devil.
If there is an American alive who loves Pat Robertson and isn’t already voting for Mitt Romney (or at least against Barack Obama), Mitt’s done.
What Mitt briefly seemed to understand at his convention is that associations matter, especially to swing voters. (That is why George W. Bush went unseen and unmentioned, except by brother Jeb.) .
Romney’s problem is that the only person who seems able to vouch for him to swing voters is his wife Ann — who appeared with him on Meet the Press to prove he has a 100 percent approval rating among women named in his will. And too many of the people he relies on to make his case to his base – which he seems to still have to make – turn swing voters off. This has been the dilemma of Romney’s candidacy from the moment he clinched the nomination.
He can’t win with the crazies, and he can’t win without them.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Steve Helber