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08.30.12

Mitt Romney Meets His Moment at the Republican National Convention

Can this guarded man deliver the speech of his life? Howard Kurtz on what Romney needs to do to connect with the television audience.

Now it all comes down to whether the man who insists he's more businessman than politician can make the political speech of his life.

The convention speakers thus far have sketched an outline of Mitt Romney, but the portrait still feels strikingly incomplete. What we have here is the unlikely spectacle of a Republican presidential nominee who still, in a very real sense, needs to introduce himself to the country.

And yet expectations have been inflated beyond all reason. The Romney camp has signaled that he won't give an overly personal or revealing speech on Thursday night—and it might seem forced or labored if he did. To paraphrase Don Rumsfeld, you go to war with the personality you have, not one you might wish to have.

From Chris Christie to Paul Ryan, from John McCain to Condoleezza Rice, the surrogates here in Tampa have praised Romney's leadership and character but—it must be said—not in a terribly personal way. Even Ann Romney, in describing why she's smitten with her husband, offered no telling anecdote that might stick in people's minds.

What’s more, their testimony has been dampened by the tropical storm that continues to divert media attention from the convention. On Thursday, the morning shows led not with Ryan’s speech but with Isaac’s aftermath in Louisiana.

Every armchair pundit in America will sling opinions on Romney in primetime, but it is safe to say he needs to connect with the television audience. An oration about saving the country from its dire straits won’t quite suffice. There have to be memorable lines or stories that resonate, that people will still be buzzing about the next day.

The vote for president is an intensely personal one, not just for a leader to protect the country but for the man who will be coming into our living rooms for the next four years.

The fundamental premise of the Romney campaign is that the anemic economy trumps any need for him to win a charisma contest for which he is ill-suited. And perhaps that's right. But the vote for president is an intensely personal one, not just for a leader to protect the country, but for the man who will be coming into our living rooms for the next four years.

There is always plenty of journalistic chatter about whether a candidate gets a bump from his convention. Such polling bounces tend to be ephemeral, and canceled out by the other guy’s convention, which in this case begins Tuesday in Charlotte.

But in this case there’s a more important measure of success. Political analysts often talk about the need to pass a threshold to be viewed as a plausible commander-in-chief. But for Mitt Romney, who rarely talks about his faith but is asking us to take him on faith, there is a comfort threshold as well.