RNC 2012: A Grown-Up Convention for Grown-Up Times

After a convention short on frivolity and long on steely resolve, the Republican Party leaves Tampa with renewed focus on fixing America's problems

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Balloons drop at the end of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's address at the 2012 Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Aug. 30, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Practical. Serious. Ready to make the tough decisions. Focused on solutions. Those are not words and phrases one would normally associate with the hype and hoopla of a national political convention. Yet even as the balloons came down, filling the hall with final moments of frivolity and fun, the unmistakable takeaway from Tampa was that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are ready to do the serious work of getting America back on track.

The opening parade of governors made the strong case, summed up by Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, that “conservative fiscal policies are working and so are more Americans in states with Republican governors.” Then, Ann Romney reminded us: “Mitt Romney was not handed success; he built it.” And Governor Chris Christie’s keynote was all about facing hard truths and getting the job done: “Real leaders don’t follow polls; real leaders change polls.”

(MORE: Joe Klein: Will Romney’s Speech Change the Campaign’s Tone?)

The message to an anxious, unsettled, pessimistic country was a realistic and optimistic one, summed up simply by Paul Ryan: “We can do this.”

Along the way, Republicans delivered an indictment of President Obama that was as devastating as it was deft. Importantly, the criticisms conveyed just the right tone: disappointment rather than anger. Speaker after speaker essentially said Barack Obama may have inspired you, but he hasn’t delivered for you. The sentiment was captured perfectly in Paul Ryan’s most memorable line, a line I heard repeated in offices across my hometown, the college town of Austin, Texas, the next day: “College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.”

(MORE: Romney Opens Up, But Not Completely)

And in the perfect set-up to the Democrats gathering next week, Republicans turned the President’s best weapon — his lofty rhetoric — against him: “This time, instead of moving oceans and healing planets, let’s get our bills in order and pay down the debt so we control our own future.” said former Congressman Artur Davis. “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans, and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family,” said Mitt Romney.

Republicans leave Tampa enthusiastic and optimistic that we can win. The tone of the convention should help our party’s appeal to women. Both Ryan and Romney paid respectful tribute to the important impact their mothers had on their lives. Ann Romney spoke powerfully about a loving husband and father who, above all, is a good, decent and humble man: “Mitt Romney doesn’t like to talk about how he’s helped others. He sees it as a privilege, not a talking point.” Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice delivered a powerful speech that was both intelligent and visionary: “We cannot be reluctant to lead and you cannot lead from behind.” The convention was a great showcase for an impressive new generation of leaders, from New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez to Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

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The one “off” note of the convention was the awkward and uncomfortable spectacle of Clint Eastwood conversing with an empty chair. It didn’t work, but it doesn’t matter. The lasting impression of this convention was that our nominees are serious, substantive, forward-looking men, ready to face and fix our nation’s many problems. It’s a good message — you might say business-like — and after all the hype and hyper-partisanship of the Obama years, just the grown-up message America needs to hear.

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