Yesterday was an intensive day, starting with meetings with two congressional candidates at the east side of Florida (story in the coming days), continued with a long drive along route 80 across the state, and ended with a Paul Ryan rally in Form Myers – well, not quite ended. After the rally I still needed to find a hotel and get something to eat (ice cream).
Rallies are boring. You spend a long time waiting, then have to listen to a long line of speakers you don’t much care about, as well as a singer - Lee Greenwood was good, but gave me the impression the GOP doesn't want the vote of anyone who doesn't like country music (just to be clear: 1. I do like it and 2. I can’t vote anyway), and a comedian - Denis Miller was funny, well, as funny as one can get at such a political event (he wants to fire the president). And then you wait some more.
By the time Ryan took to the stage the crowd was on the verge of exhaustion. But it was still interesting to listen. The campaign is at its most juvenile stage, with the two camps constantly trading allegations over small nuances, mocking one another for things unworthy of attention, twisting words, parsing meanings, attacking, responding to attacks, responding to the responses, keeping track of the responses, calling each other liars. It is like a game of very young kids, where the rules are far from clear and evolve as they go along.
So here’s what I heard from Ryan and what I learned about the state of the race:
The long line of speakers was all men, except for one - Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. And she was the one who got to introduce Ryan to the cheering crowd. The battle for women's votes is on, yet the Romney-Ryan ticket doesn’t seem to believe polls arguing that women are most interested in abortion as the issue of this election. They keep arguing, or pretending, or believing – I actually think they genuinely believe – that the abortion answer from women is a knee-jerk response: women tell pollsters what they think is the correct answer while what they truly care about is the economy and jobs. Thus, Ryan keeps telling women to give Romney a chance to fix the economy and largely ignores the contentious subject of abortion. Since I’m going to be at a Joe Biden rally later today, it will be interesting to hear what the VP has to say that can sway the women's vote (a binder joke will surely make it into the rally).
Ryan turning Bill Clinton’s words against Obama got some attention following the rally. “Just today, President Bill Clinton said it is true that our economy is not fixed. He is right”, Ryan said. Obviously, this was an attempt to get under the other campaign’s skin, and obviously, Ryan got the attention he wanted by saying this, and obviously, Clinton’s intent was different to what Ryan said, and obviously, the faked anger at Ryan’s trick was, well, faked. In a campaign silly season, using such a quote is hardly the worst thing that the candidates are doing.
Ryan is not a great speaker, not nearly as good as Obama or Clinton. Ten minutes into his speech I spotted quite a few people leaving, hurrying to their cars. But I’m not sure great speaking matters to the campaign at this stage. The Republican campaign seems to be at peace with Romney’s lack of coolness and small awkwardness. In fact, it is attempting to turn it into an advantage. For Ryan this translates to a message of change – change of priorities. Four years ago the Americans voted for the cool guy, now it’s time to vote for the uncool but very efficient manager. Is he wooden? Yes he is, but we don’t care. Of course, Ryan doesn’t say Romney is wooden, but reading between the lines this is the message one gets. Even women voters – so he believes – would this time go for the less charismatic, more dependable candidate.
The GOP debate narrative goes like this: There were three debates until now, two presidential debates and one of the VP candidates. In all three, the Republican candidate won. In the first one, Romney was debating an empty chair (Ryan reminded the audience how Clint Eastwood was mocked for the empty chair gesture, but ended up being right). In the VP debate, it was Biden, and the GOP voters dislike the blustering, arrogant Biden. In the third debate – the one more Americans said Obama won – was also a Romney achievement. Obama was so helpless that he needed the moderator to intervene on his behalf, so Ryan said.
Last point: Reminding the crowd of the third debate, the Crowley intervention, and the Libya question might seem odd: This was supposedly the time in which Romney lost the debate. However, listening to Ryan yesterday it became clear that the Romney campaign still believes the Libya debacle hurts Obama, and is worthy of as much attention as one can give at this time to a foreign policy issue. And since foreign policy is going to be front and center in the days leading to the third debate, Monday here in Florida, Libya is also going to be front and center, at least for the Romney campaign. As for Obama and Biden, Libya for them is “an embarrassment” that they “can’t reasonably escape”, as I wrote in my long preview of the foreign policy debate. You can read it here.
Check out Rosner's new book, The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney / A Jewish Voter's Guide