Mitt Romney, Distant Presence at the Republican Convention

As the Tampa team sings his praises, the nominee feels like a bystander. By Howard Kurtz.

David Goldman / AP Photo

The moment that everyone here is buzzing about is when the cameras cut away from Chris Christie's speech and captured Mitt Romney looking on.

He appeared, well, sour. A bit peeved, maybe. Impassive. No nod or acknowledgment of the crowd.

Maybe it was just an unguarded moment, overly analyzed by those within the Tampa bubble. But to a striking degree, this does not yet feel like Mitt Romney's Republican convention. It is a convention devoted to selling him, yes, but he is not at the emotional heart of it.

Perhaps it was the storm-delayed start, or the way that Ann Romney stole the show. Perhaps it is the fact that Romney is not a movement conservative, that he won the party's nomination without winning its heart.

Many of the assembled Republicans were wowed by Chris Christie, although his self-obsessed keynote speech seemed more like a warm-up for 2016. There is genuine excitement about Paul Ryan, an intellectual hero of the party who is seen as a future leader if this ticket goes down to defeat. Two governors, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich, impressed people not just with their speeches but with the way they, like Christie, have taken on public employee unions in their states.

And Romney? Well, he’s the experienced businessman promising to fix the economy. Not exactly the sort of thing that gets the blood racing.

And even though Ann Romney’s speech painted him as a devoted father and grandfather, she failed to tell a single story that people would remember and that might cause them to view Mitt in a different light.

There have been other conventions that fell dutifully into line behind the standard-bearer without an excess of affection. Michael Dukakis in 1988. Bob Dole in 1996. John Kerry in 2004. Not every nominee speaks that special poetry that resonates with the party faithful.

Romney’s speech could change that, of course, but he and his team already seem to be lowering expectations that he will do much more than lay out a compelling vision for America rather than charm the country.

The now-official Republican nominee can still put his stamp on this convention. But at the moment, he seems as much of an onlooker as when he was watching Christie’s speech without evident satisfaction.