By Hannah McFaull and Cristina Barron
A few nights ago, Willard Mitt Romney accepted the Republican nomination to be their candidate for President of the United States. His speech, which at only 35 minutes was short for such an occasion, told us a lot about the GOP fears and inner-party splits which could prevent him from having any credible shot at the White House.
Media coverage of the primary elections would have you believe that Romney and his Cadillac driving family were out of touch with the American people and that his politics were out of step with his party and the Tea Party movement. Coming to the convention only months after toeing the party line on abortion and same sex marriage, plus having advocated reform to the Massachusetts health care system that Obamacare was literally modelled on, he needed to unite and ignite his key supporters.
We don’t envy his speech writersone bit (nor do we believe he wrote it himself, as Twitter would have you believe). The task of uniting the party beyond those in the ballroom, whilst simultaneously not alienating anyone on the extreme ideological edges, is a thankless one. For what it’s worth we think they did a good job in doing this in the half hour we heard from the Governor.
There were some obvious speechwriting tools deployed in this aim as well. He hit the GOP history geeks’ pressure points when he asked “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Word for word exactly what Reagan asked in 1980 a few days before the election against Jimmy Carter, invoking feelings of familiarity, comfort and historical context. Towards the end he employed a pantomimic call and response tactic, getting the delegates to boo in unison at mentions of Obama. These tools of the trade were evident to non-communications experts like us.
The Party needed a show of unity after the chaos of an eleven candidate primary election process. The role of the Convention in American politics is to unite the party behind a candidate of choosing, reignite the base and remind people of their socialized party loyalties. Political scientists advocating the Michigan model of vote choice tell us that the likelihood of anyone changing affiliation after watching such an event is rare, and this isn’t what they are designed for. They are to tell the American voters and the rest of the watching world a carefully constructed story.
From Marco Rubio’s introduction the scene was set. This story was about the one thing that unites both the fiscal conservatives who hold moderate views on social issues, and the extreme right of the party comprising the base of the GOP. It didn’t matter whose positions on gay marriage, gun control and freedom of religion you agreed with, the one thing all Republicans could agree on is the infringement of government into the lives of America’s families.
He said that what makes America, America is “Community, Faith and Family”. Government gets in the way of your relationship with God and your relationship with your family. The biggest cheer of the night from the crowd was when Romney spoke in opposition to Obamacare, which to many Republicans represents the ultimate infringement of individual rights by government.
The one part of the speech that had us wringing our hands and shouting at the TV was his careful mention of the position of women in Romney’s America, asking “why should women have any less say in decisions affecting the country?”. He went on to describe how the role his wife Ann played in their family was “harder than mine”, whilst seemingly on the verge of tears about it.
That’s all very well and good Mr. Romney, but when you and your party stop trying to remove the ability of women to make decisions about their own bodies and futures, then we’ll talk about the role of women in Romerica. He had to mention something about women, seeing as the Democrats definitely will next week and he didn’t want them to be able to say he’d said nothing. The Republicans continue to speak about how they love women and yet support a full platform to take our rights away- direct contradictions and lies, similar to those in VP candidate Paul Ryan’s speech.
Despite this and the listing of the female Republican leaders he has mentored and who spoke at the 2012 Convention, the media have got it wrong on focusing on the issue of deflection of the GOP attack on womens’ rights. This speech wasn’t about bringing women back into the fold or making amends for examples such as Todd Akin’s horrific statement and lack of biological knowledge or common sense.
It was about striking a balance between the economic and social arguments that voters care about. It is striking to note that the woman not mentioned by Mitt was Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona. One might posit that her exclusion has more to do with her controversial stance on immigration and the display of party disunity her inclusion would provoke.
The power of faith and family were invoked again and again. Interestingly Romney made only one direct mention to his own Mormon faith, using phrases such as ‘my Church’ instead. For all the talk of religious freedom, it still appears that the only religion that is allowed this freedom is Christianity within very strict perimeters.
“All the laws in the world will never heal this world. What we need is family and God’s love”. This quote for us encapsulates the main theme of the speech, and it made us wonder if the speech was so short because the GOP is so fractured and fragmented that a more complicated theme would have highlighted the severe internal divisions and discord?
Hannah McFaull and Cristina Barron are both graduate students at San Francisco State University. They are currently pursuing an MA in Political Science, specialising in American politics, gender and election campaigns. Both worked in politics before reentering higher education; Hannah as a member of the Policy and Communications Team at The Howard League for Penal Reform and Cristina through internships in Washington on the Hill and in the district for her Member of Congress. Both feminists, Hannah grew up in East London and is a member of the Labour Party, Cristina was raised in the Central Valley of California and is a Democrat.