The following editorial appeared Friday in The Chicago Tribune:
Mitt Romney concluded a Republican National Convention that was sobered by a running mate he chose (Paul Ryan) and one he didn't (Hurricane Isaac).
Romney's detractors anticipated humiliations ranging from rampant extremism ("GOP Is a Radicalized Fringe Party," a Washington Monthly post warned) to obsolete messaging ("Too Late to Shake that Etch A Sketch," wrote Maureen Dowd of The New York Times) to racist cluelessness ("They are happy to have a party with black people drowning," quipped David Chalian, promptly fired by an apologetic Yahoo! News).
Any of these scenarios, had it been America's takeaway, would have undercut Romney and Ryan, who market themselves as this year's Serious Ticket. So too, for that matter, would a typically boisterous convention, dominated by harsh speeches and yodeling delegates in goofy hats.
This convention wasn't typical. Hurricane Isaac pre-empted its start for one day, and from then on lurked in the background like Katrina's menacing sibling. It was a serious storm that, by Thursday night, had weakened, its most lethal threats unrealized.
Averaged across three days, the mood projected was combative enough to energize Republican partisans (and to aggravate Democratic voyeurs). You could profoundly disagree with Romney yet still hear in his Thursday night speech the conciliatory words aimed at independent voters who dislike over-the-top rancor:
"Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That president was not the choice of our party but Americans always come together after elections. ... I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. This isn't something we have to accept."
One night earlier, Ryan had tried to resonate with young Americans in a speech longer on lament than condemnation:
"There's only one thing missing now. Leadership. It takes leadership that you don't get from reading a poll. You see, Mr. President, real leaders don't follow polls. Real leaders change polls."
These conventions are of grave import to Romney and Obama even if pollsters say most of us have made our choices:
As Romney walked onstage Thursday night, he trailed Obama in the RealClearPolitics aggregation of polls by a thin but stubborn 1.1 percentage points. That's little solace, though, for Obama. Four years to the day earlier Aug. 30, 2008 he led John McCain in the same aggregation by 3.9 points.
The stubborn stat on his back is an approval rating of 47.7 percent. On Aug. 30, 2004, at the same point in George W. Bush's re-election campaign, his approval rating was 49.5.
In Charlotte Obama is working to protect, then grow, his lead. Just as this week, in Tampa, Romney worked to convince Americans who voted for a Democrat in 2008 that they have permission to vote for a Republican in 2012. Mixed in with Romney's pledges Thursday night to create 12 million jobs, reform public education and corral ruinous deficits and debt, he told Americans:
"Hope and change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I'd ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn't you feel that way now that he's President Obama?"
A serious finish to as these things go a serious convention.
That said, it's difficult to persuade the American people that they need to fire their president.