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Romney hit the right notes, but what was GOP thinking with Eastwood?

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney watches as balloons fall at the end of his speech to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 30, 2012.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

It's always a dangerous proposition to judge a presidential candidate's convention speech in the hours that immediately follow; how it fits into a campaign can take days or weeks to become clear.

Still, the morning after Republican nominee Mitt Romney gave the most important address of his career to date, there are a few things that most everyone seems able to agree on:

1. He was competent

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Even among supporters who watched live in Tampa's arena, there's little sense that this was a speech for the ages; "pretty good" was a common assessment. Among detractors, including commentators who have been critical of Mr. Romney previously, very few are claiming that he bombed, or significantly hurt his chances.

In other words, there's little belief that there will be any big and imminent shift in public opinion. At worst, Mr. Romney failed to move anyone to his side; at best, he provided a little reassurance to those leaning toward him anyway.

2. This was him

At times over the past few months, Mr. Romney's campaign – perhaps even Mr. Romney – seemed to struggle with his identity. He rarely looked comfortable trying to come off as a hard-line conservative, and attempts to prove his common touch had a tendency to bomb.

On Thursday night, Mr. Romney passingly threw his base a bit of red meat on abortion and gay marriage, but otherwise spoke like the relatively moderate business conservative his record suggests he is; meanwhile, he was unapologetic about either his privileged upbringing or his business success. Unlike previously, there's been little post-speech suggestion that he's uneasy in his own skin.

3. He touched on the right themes

Mr. Romney was widely advised by pundits before the address to speak from the heart about his family, to lay off angry attacks on President Barack Obama and instead express disappointment with where the country is at, to speak hopefully about the future, and to start laying out his own plans.

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He's been criticized for coming up short on that last one, offering only a vague five-point plan that included a dubious pledge to create 12 million jobs. But for the most part, he's seen to have checked off the right boxes.

4. Open-mic night with Clint Eastwood was a terrible mistake

Mr. Romney's campaign was looking to make a splash with its much-hyped "surprise guest," but it went sideways in a manner that's almost indescribable for those who haven't suffered through it. It was also inexplicable, given that the convention's otherwise tight script was suddenly thrown out the window so that an octogenarian not known for his unpredictable views could improvise a conversation with an empty chair posing as the President.

That this has temporarily turned a beloved film icon into a laughingstock is unfortunate enough, but the bigger problem for Mr. Romney is that it's cut heavily into coverage of his big night. Exiting the arena, even Republicans who had given Mr. Eastwood a rousing standing ovation when he took the stage could be heard wondering what on earth the party was thinking.

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About the Author
Political Feature Writer

Adam Radwanski is The Globe and Mail's political feature writer. More


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