x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Romney unites party with statesmanlike address

Republican candidate eschews some of the harsh criticisms of Barack Obama that has characterised earlier pronouncements and those of his colleagues.

Mitt Romney and his wife Ann hug family members after his speech during the Republican National Convention on Thursday.
Mitt Romney and his wife Ann hug family members after his speech during the Republican National Convention on Thursday.

WASHINGTON // The Republican national convention came to a close with a salute of Mitt Romney and a show of unity among the party faithful lacking earlier in the campaign.

It may provide only a temporary bump in the polls for the party's presidential candidate before the spotlight falls on the Democratic convention next week when the US President Barack Obama takes centre stage.

But Mr Romney has now had his moment in the spotlight - the only chance before election day in November to appear before the public and speak, uninterrupted, for more than 30 minutes. And he did his best to claw back some of the deficit in the polls between himself and Mr Obama.

His was a personal speech. He talked about his parents, their love for each other, his love for his family and his need to "strike out" on his own or forever remain in the shadow of his father - a former governor of Michigan who also entertained presidential ambitions.

He eschewed some of the harsh criticisms of the US president that has characterised earlier pronouncements and those of his colleagues.

Instead, his speech was a more statesmanlike attempt at sounding above the fray.

"I wish President Obama had succeeded," he said, "because I want America to succeed."

Nevertheless, he told a boisterous crowd in Florida, that Mr Obama had ultimately failed the core principles of the US by undermining the optimism that lies at the heart of the "American experience".

It's time, Mr Romney said, to "turn the page".

A Romney administration, he further pledged, would create 12 million jobs, lower taxes, improve schools, lower the budget deficit and improve relations with US allies such as Israel, who had been thrown "under the bus" by the current administration.

Absent were specifics on how exactly to lower taxes, maintain defence spending and balance the budget at the same time.

Shorn of the need to pander to his party's social conservatives and mindful instead of having to appeal to undecided voters, there was also no mention of abortion, only of the "sanctity of life", or illegal immigration.

There was plenty of mention of success, however: his own and America's. The dominant theme of the Republican convention has been an attempt to present Mr Romney's private-sector prowess as his most relevant qualification for the presidency.

It remains to be seen whether the general public will buy that argument or whether the White House version of Mr Romney as an out-of-touch, over-privileged "vulture" capitalist will prevail instead.

Either way, Mr Romney does seem to have gathered the Republican Party behind him during a convention pressed with urgency after Hurricane Isaac shortened proceedings by a day.

He has appeased a sceptical right-wing with his choice as running mate of Paul Ryan, the fiscal conservative Wisconsin congressman.

Now he has to avoid the pitfalls - alienating crucial voting blocs such as women and minorities could undermine his prospects.

He has to hope colleagues avoid doing the same. The "legitimate rape" comment from Todd Akin, a Republican congressman, before the convention set Mr Romney's campaign back weeks.

On Wednesday, his campaign staffers were quick to denounce two white people at the convention who were ejected after throwing peanuts at a black camera woman from CNN while saying: "This is what we feed animals."

The incident fits an image with which the Republican Party is viewed in some quarters, as the party for "angry white" people that ignores the needs of minorities.

Having lambasted Mr Obama for being divisive, Mr Romney must also convince that he is a unifier.

 

okarmi@thenational.ae