Mitt Romney didn’t have to talk about his jobs plans last night – he’s already leading Obama by 9% on the economy.
He didn’t have to impress viewers with verbal charts, facts, and figures – he’s the Bain guy. He’s called a robot. Sort of goes with the territory.
He didn’t have to sell Americans on his proposals – already, most think he’s more in step with their ideology than Obama.
All he had to do was one thing – it was the one thing that everyone and their cats had been saying he had to do for years: Humanize himself.
“Humanize himself” has become such a cliché that I hate to even include it in this post, but it illustrates a point – it’s only become such a cliché, because everyone (and their cats) have been saying that's all there is between him and the presidency.
To be cute, he’s a heartbeat away from the presidency right now, but he needs a real heartbeat to get there.
So what does Romney go out and do?
He gives, by far, the most personal major speech he’s ever given, he invites viewers to see pictures he’d rather not share, he steps out of the boardroom and into the living room, he gets emotional at the very time his instincts tell him to stiffen up and build a corporate wall.
If he’d done all the other things – the economic plan, the specifics, the details – it would make the human side less pronounced. And a man who already has trouble pronouncing that side for audiences can’t really afford to have a full orchestra of babbling flutes and cheeky clarinets around him.
After years of watching him, Romney did the one thing he’d never done for me – put tears in my eyes, and you can probably guess when, because you had them, as well. My wife was typing nearby, and she suddenly stopped as the rose story ended, and her eyes grew red. Even Andrew Sullivan, who sits atop the Romney Antagonist food chain, apparently choked up.
The night wasn’t perfect.
Clint Eastwood was a talking (barely) Hindenburg, and the transition from Rubio’s speech to Romney’s entrance was clumsy and boring. We don’t want to see the guy glad-hand before the speech; we want to see him do it after -- once we know there’s emotion beyond obligation.
But Romney actually did something that didn’t seem possible – he was better than Marco Rubio. Yes, I never thought I'd say it. Rubio might have been more stirring, but only because he has the more potent biography, the electric power of youth, and the credibility that comes from someone whose convictions haven’t been sorely questioned.
But Rubio wasn’t warm. He talked about American warmth, to be sure, but he closed his fist too often while doing it, and seemed too angry.
Romney, on the other hand, seemed to understand the flow of the speech and had more speeds. If they were exercise bikes (a common mental exercise), Rubio had two settings, and Romney about six.
So yes, this was a very good night for Romney. He was, above all, finally vulnerable, and that might be the thickest armor he has heading into the campaign’s final stage.