Marco Rubio, who was almost picked as Mitt Romney’s running mate, demonstrated an important part of the Republican strategy last night: to steer clear of any personal attacks of Barack Obama and actually praise the president as a man. In his speech introducing Romney, the Florida senator had this to say:-
“Our problem with President Obama isn’t that he’s a bad person. By all accounts, he, too, is a good husband, and a good father and – thanks to lots of practice – a pretty good golfer. Our problem is not that he’s a bad person. Our problem is that he’s a bad president.
The Republicans don’t want to come across as angry, or resentful. They already have the angry voters in the bag. They’re looking for the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger voters who still admire Obama, and have his books in their shelves, but are just disappointed.
The Romney camp know their biggest problem is Obama’s huge charisma. A lot of speakers at this convention have had to say, in effect, ‘it is hard to tell, because he’s a bit wooden, but Mitt’s actually a great guy’. Rubio did his bit:-
We have heard for a long time now about Mitt Romney’s success in business. It is well known. But we’ve also learned he is so much more than that. Mitt Romney is a devoted husband, a father, a grandfather, a generous member of his community and church, a role model for younger Americans like myself. Everywhere he has been, he has volunteered his time and talent to make things better for those around him. And we are blessed that a man like this will soon be the president of these United States.
One final thing about Rubio. He spoke in Spanish a little, and also about his parents’ background. It jumped out because you’ll struggle to find many senior British politicians with the same backstory and because it cuts to the core of the Republicans’ overall message:-
Many nights growing up I would hear my father’s keys at the door as he came home after another 16-hour day. Many mornings, I woke up just as my mother got home from the overnight shift at Kmart. When you’re young and in a hurry, the meaning of moments like this escape you. Now, as my children get older, I understand it better. My dad used to tell us — (SPEAKING IN SPANISH) — ‘in this country, you’ll be able to accomplish all the things we never could’. A few years ago, I noticed a bartender behind the portable bar in the back of the ballroom. I remembered my father, who worked as many years as a banquet bartender. He was grateful for the work he had, but that’s not like he wanted for us. You see, he stood behind the ball all those years so that one day I could stand behind a podium, in the front of a room.
The crowd loved it. We Brits can tease the Americans for being schmaltzy, but they have always been far better at infusing emotion into their speeches and making politics into a battle of values. Rubio is saying that Republicans stand for self-advancement and believe in an America built by people whereas Barack “you didn’t build that” Obama has more faith in government. It’s a message that will have a far broader appeal than “vote Mitt”. As for Rubio, he’s well worth keeping an eye on. In a cover story last year, Richard Littlejohn said he will be American president, it’s just a question of when. A reminder that, should Romney fail, the Republicans will likely have a stronger list of candidates in 2016.