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January 29, 2007

Mitt Romney Underwhelms At National Review Symposium

A disappointing effort, especially from someone who had been gathering buzz as a rock star. K-Lo says the speech was lame as nicely as she can.

Bill Sammon liked it. I was stading at the back of the room and asked him about it. He said he found it moving, especially at the end.

Well, here was the end. As a big coda, Romney related the story of how a Boy Scout troop wanted to have their flag carried aboard the space shuttle. NASA wasn't eager to do so -- "Space is at a premium in space," Romney said -- but (I think) a call from Romney got the flag aboard the shuttle.

Well, the shuttle blew up. And then the Boy Scouts wanted to know if their flag had been recovered from the wreckage. They were told there was very little chance of it even surviving the explosion, let alone being found.

And then weeks (or months, whatever) later an "air-tight container" is delivered to Romney, from NASA, and he opens it up to discover the flag inside. Touching that flag was "electric," which means something or other about the promise and dream of America.

I don't know. The shuttle blew up, people died, America lost a multibillion dollar shuttle and presitge and confidence, and we're talking about a flag that made it back? This is a rousing climax?

Seems to be defining expectations down a bit.

The anniversary of the shuttle explosion was very day he made the speech. Oh wait, actually, it was the following day. He said so (didn't try to claim an incorrect deate), but that last little datum sort of underlines the basic lameness of the story -- it wasn't even actually the anniversary, just close to it. Just like the story really didn't pack any particular emotional punch -- just kinda-sorta close to it.

Jack M., who'd come by to share a drink, watched most of the speech with me, and said "He's losing the room." Particularly on the point of Iran. Romney suggested tough economic sanctions and a (purely symbolic) indictment of Ahmadinejad for attempting to incite genocide (I missed which legal venue this indictment was to be pursued in). Not exactly what a conservative crowd is looking to hear from a presidential candidate on Iran. (In fairness, however, few speakers addressed Iran in much more than generalities, and no candidates called for airstrikes that I can remember.)

A funny story about this. Later, at the hotel bar, a woman named Molly said she thought the speech was a clunker. Sitting next to her was Kate O'Beirne, who suggested Molly tell the man to Kate O'Beirne's right her opinion on the speech. So Molly told the man she'd found it very disappointing, meandering, uninspiring, scattershot.

The man, it turns out, liked the speech a bit better than Molly did: He was Romney's speechwriter, he explained.

Kate O'Beirne giggled. Evil.

Caveats:

1. I got there five minutes after this Kate O'Beirne set-up occurred. I'm guessing the part about "giggling," but it seems a good guess. Molly told me about, so at least it's second-hand.

2. One bad speech doesn't doom a candidate.

3. Saturday was a grueling day at the Symposium. The NR people had panels running nearly continuously. I'd gotten up to see Newt at 8 and by 7:30, when Romney spoke, I was pretty wonked-out -- and I hadn't gone to nearly all the panels. Plus, there was actually a break, I think, between the last late afternoon panel and the Romney dinner address. Being extremely tired and finding that caffeine and nicotine weren't waking me up, I figured I'd try drinking a lot of alcohol. So when I was watching Romney I wasn't exactly in the right frame of mind to appreciate a political speech. And I wonder how many other people had decided to have a few drinks before the speech. The last comic performing at a comedy club knows he has to be loud, profane, and very obvious if he wants to get a reaction from the few drunks left in the room.

Who knows -- Bill Sammon was straight-up sober. Maybe his opinion is closer to the truth.

Herd Mentality Alert: I just want to caution that while most people seemed to have thought the speech was disappointing, it wasn't dreadful or anything. It just wasn't very good. I imagine the media, an echo chamber of baa-ing herd animials, will play this up as some sort of major set-back.

Just one unimpressive speech. Not exactly Nixon's loss in California, which, as it turns out, wasn't even all that bad either.


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posted by Ace at 12:42 PM

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