TAMPA, Fla. — The Republican National Convention closed Thursday night amid swirling balloons and soaring spirits, as Mitt Romney exhorted his followers to have faith in the American Dream.
“If I am elected president of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future,” he said. “That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it!”
It was strong stuff, and the crowd reacted appropriately. Thousands roared their loyalty and appreciation, as Romney beamed from the podium.
“What a fabulous speech,” murmured a delegate from North Attleboro, Mass., elegantly attired in a sea-green silk suit. “He did such a good job.”
In the heat of the moment, the indulgent crowd could be forgiven for not noticing that the extravagant language and soaring sentiments contained very few specifics about how the candidate and his young sidekick could attain the bright future they were promising.
The night’s stated theme was “We believe in America,” but the real goal of the evening’s presentations could have been better stated as “Believe us, Mitt is human.”
What Ann Romney began with her heartfelt speech Tuesday was completed with a series of home movies, personal tributes and political testimonials carefully designed to peel away Romney’s image as a humorless, wooden, hopelessly out-of-touch rich man.
One of his sons recounted how notoriously cheap their father was. “We went to my mother if we needed money,” he said.
Instead of buying the right-sized light for the kitchen, it seems, Romney would use whatever was on sale, covering the bulb with tin foil if it was too bright.
Romney was a devoted family man, leaving his work at the door when he arrived home to his lovely wife and loving, if rambunctious, sons. He seemed to be endearingly naughty as well, and in one film Ann Romney said she often felt as if she had six sons instead of five.
Romney was a caring pastor who went above and beyond to help his flock, said those who knew him in Massachusetts. Pam Finlayson recounted, with tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat, how Romney stayed with her and her premature baby, Kate, during the first difficult days of Kate’s life.
“When the world looks at Mitt Romney, they see him as the founder of a successful business, the leader of the Olympics, or a governor,” she said. “When I see Mitt, I know him to be a loving father, man of faith and caring and compassionate friend.”
It worked — sort of.
When the man himself came into the hall, the delegates whistled, cheered and clapped for several minutes, as Romney made his way through the crowd to the podium. But during his half-hour speech, Romney delivered little but platitudes to justify the adulation.
“Unlike the president, I have a plan to create 12 million new jobs,” said Romney. “It has five steps.”
The steps include making America energy independent by 2020, fixing education, forging new trade agreements, balancing the budget and championing small business.
There was little mention of how any of these steps might be implemented.
Another major theme, of the evening as well as the speech, was the airbrushing of Romney’s record at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm that he helped to create in 1984.
Listening to Romney and his friends, one might form the impression that Bain was some kind of business charity, which existed solely to help other businesses realize their true potential. In reality, Bain is a firm that relentlessly and unapologetically pursues one goal: return on investment.
That was Romney’s job as head of the firm, and he did it well. He became wildly rich, and made many others rich as well. Far from running from his reputation as a successful businessman, Romney has used it to bolster his qualifications to lead the nation.
But Romney’s wealth has been a focus of Barack Obama’s re-election bid; the president, with some success, has sought to paint his rival as a cutthroat actor on the economic scene, deaf to the misery he causes.
On Thursday, Romney struck back.
“The centerpiece of the president's entire re-election campaign is attacking success,” said Romney. “Is it any wonder that someone who attacks success has led the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression? In America, we celebrate success, we don't apologize for it.”
The crowd loved it.
The speech was interrupted by one determined protest: A man and woman on the floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum began shouting as Romney delivered his address. The crowd reacted with its chant of “USA! USA!” to drown them out, and some delegates took more direct action. They wrestled the pair to the floor and held them until security came and frog-marched them out.
It threw the candidate off a bit, but the adoring crowd didn’t seem to mind.
During the course of the convention, much was made of the “mystery guest” scheduled to appear Thursday evening. By Thursday morning, the mystery was solved: Clint Eastwood would be endorsing the Republican candidate.
It is difficult to say whether the iconic actor did Romney any good with his strange and rambling speech, which involved an interview with an imaginary Barack Obama.
Eastwood kept turning to an empty chair and asking what he seemed to think were provocative questions. But the actor was not making a lot of sense.
“And then, I just wondered, all these promises and then I wondered about, you know, when the ... What? What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. That. He can't do that to himself … You’re crazy. You’re absolutely crazy. You’re getting as bad as Biden.”
The gratuitous insults and implied profanity may have titillated the crowd, but it had little political impact. The only real connection Eastwood made with the crowd was at the end of his “speech,” when he was asked to utter his most famous line just one more time.
“Okay, I’ll start it, you finish,” he said. Then, in that gravelly voice, made even reedier over time, he began:
“Go ahead …”
The crowd roared back.
“MAKE MY DAY.”