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TAMPA, FLA.—If ever there was a night for Mitt Romney to shake that dog off his roof, this was it.
No more Mr. Cruel Guy, no more personality deficit, no more lacquer of luxury. Now or never for Romney 2.0 to emerge from the blast furnace of American politics, ready for prime time. Get real or go home.
And on this night in Tampa, in a feat of formidable stagecraft, the former Massachusetts governor and his many surrogates came close.
On paper, at least.
The words were there in Romney’s script — a few gentle swipes at Barack Obama, a lament for a let-down nation that “deserves better,” a solemn oath that Romney, guided by faith, family, fortune and sheer love of country, is the man to deliver.
“You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”
But the time has come, said Romney, to “stand up and say, ‘I’m an American. I make my destiny. And we deserve better! My children deserve better. My family deserves better. My country deserves better.’ ”
Romney seemed to almost cede the “likability” question in tacit acknowledgement of Obama’s global appeal.
In hailing his own accomplishments with Bain Capital, Romney said Obama’s lack of business experience was the reason Obama “disappointed you.”
That reference sparked one of the night’s loudest ovations.
The Tin Man needed to somehow locate the creaky door to his heart and soul and show them to be true.
Here, finally, was the full-throated excitement that had eluded the convention all week.
As for the rest of America, we shall see.
There was something almost tragicomic in how Romney executed due diligence in preparation for the Tampa speech: draft upon draft flew back and forth between the candidate’s iPad and that of his chief strategist, Stuart Stevens.
Like a CEO in search of political alchemy, Romney read and reread historic convention speeches for weeks leading up to Thursday. Somewhere in it all, perhaps he would divine an algebraic spreadsheet to become likeable. What combination of words would secure the acquisition of the American electorate?
In the end, though, we didn’t get nearly as much of the Real Romney from Romney, so much as from his surrogates.
As three successive nights of podium puppetry built to a crescendo, Team Romney rolled out the biggest guns yet: His son Craig, speaking in Spanish of the family heritage as exiles in Mexico; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, himself a rising star, doubling down for Hispanic votes; former Romney colleagues talking up the wonder of Romney’s Bain Capital his days in the Massachusetts governor’s office, his Olympics turnaround in Utah.
Perhaps most crucially, the stage in Tampa saw a parade of Romney’s co-religionists finally cracking the code of Mormonism, describing the candidate’s role in the Latter-day Saints as lifelong expression of “compassion in all its varieties.”
“The quiet hospital room of a dying boy, with no cameras and no reporters — that is the time to make an assessment.”
Powerful words that left many in the Forum weeping, before gracing the couple with a roaring ovation.
“Our problem is he’s a bad president,” Rubio said.
But coming on the heels of so many months of sustained, scathing attacks on the source of Romney’s wealth — often in the form of friendly fire from his Republican rivals — one wonders if any of this will supplant the image of a man born with the keys to Harvard in his pocket.
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