I can't remember a better convention speech by a would-be First Lady than Ann Romney delivered tonight. She was herself warm and charming - and she was thus utterly convincing when she argued for her husband's character and capacity for empathy. She is so human -- a splendid survivor of two terrible diseases -- that when she speaks for her husband's humanity, she carries all before her.
There's always a risk in these spousal speeches. Lots of fine family men and women make unsuccessful political leaders; many great political leaders were bad family people. How to draw the connection credibly between what the spouse knows and what the public needs? To my ear, Michelle Obama often missed that mark in 2008, talking too much about how her husband had never let her down, which was not the ballot question for most voters.
Ann Romney did much better, with her hard-hitting theme: Mitt Romney does not fail at what he undertakes. And he really doesn't.
By contrast, I thought the Chris Christie speech a poorly planned mess, that opened a lot of dangerous targeting opportunities for the other side.
His long narrative about his state makes that state's performance more central to the Romney narrative than it needed to be -- and the performance isn't good in the metric most Americans care most about: job creation.
An opposition party in hard times needs to offer hope. Such hope was notably absent from a speech that talked more about hard truths and unpleasant realities. Nor was it wise to talk so much about shared sacrifices when the centerpiece of the Romney campaign is a big tax cut for upper-income earners. Argue the case for the tax cut on growth grounds, but don't generate a clip that can appear in an Obama attack ad alongside a debunking quote from the Tax Foundation.
The convention speech that made Barack Obama's career had a single strong theme: American unity transcending party division. The Christie speech had no theme. It finished with a warming phrase about a second American century -- speaking to the anxieties many of us feel about Chinese competition for global pre-eminence -- but it offered no vision of how to secure that century.
Ann Romney reassured a lot of wavering voters tonight. Chris Christie stirred the hall, but who did he move?
Which is a shame, because there is a lot in this tough governor to admire -- and because in so many ways he offers the party real hope for a more broad-based revival as a modern, inclusive national movement. There is such a thing as Chris Christie Republicanism. I wish he'd allowed himself tonight to articulate it fully and forcefully.