In Tampa, Mitt Romney delivered a 4,000-word acceptance speech and devoted only a sliver of the address to what he would do as president, briefly describing the most generic policy aims: achieve energy independence, promote school choice, improve trade policies, cut the deficit, cut taxes, and kill Obamacare. In a speech mainly designed to re-reintroduce him as a solid business-minded fellow who could be trusted to do fine as an anyone-but-Obama president, Romney provided no details on how he'd do any of this. And senior Democratic and Obama campaign officials believe that Romney's vagueness has afforded President Barack Obama a significant opening to exploit at the Democratic convention in Charlotte.
"We've been talking about this all week," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said on Tuesday, hours before the convention opened. "For months, the Romney campaign said his speech would be when they would introduce Romney and his plans, but there were no specifics…They didn't fill in the holes."
A Democratic strategist advising the campaign, who is not authorized to speak publicly for it, noted, "As soon as Romney was done, we saw the chance to do something Romney failed to do: to spell out what Obama would do if elected."
The Obama crew's response to Romney's surface-skimming speech was not a partisan reflex. Days afterward, Bill Kristol, the neoconservative commentator who loves to be cranky about Romney, slapped the Republican presidential nominee for not describing what he'd do in the Oval Office:
I thought that they should do a more forward-looking emphasis on the next four years. They thought they're comfortable with asking voters to pass judgment on the last four years and…just reassuring people about Mitt Romney.
You talk to the top Romney strategists, they use that word an awful lot. We have to reassure voters about Mitt Romney. He doesn't hate women, he's a likable guy. He's a generous guy. The Republican Party is diverse. That's enough, plus the case against Obama. That's their theory of the race and they had a convention that fit with their theory of the race. If you believe and I'm more inclined to this other belief, that you need to actually convince voters by making a positive case for the Romney-Ryan ticket, there was much less of that.
With his speech, Romney certainly didn't use policy details to attract voters. And voters, for this or other reasons, did not react strongly. Gallup found that only 38 percent judged Romney's speech excellent or good. This was the lowest mark in years for a presidential acceptance speech (John McCain in 2008, 47 percent; Obama in 2008, 58 percent; George W. Bush in 2004, 49 percent; John Kerry in 2004, 52 percent; Al Gore in 2000, 51 percent; Bush in 2000, 51 percent; Bob Dole in 1996, 52 percent). Going light on the policy substance didn't seem to help Romney, who appears to have earned no significant boost from his convention.