LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE of today's Republican National Convention rainout. Isaac is expected to only graze Tampa Bay, the television networks weren't going to broadcast tonight's opening anyway, and three compact days should force Republicans to more sharply focus their message. It's certainly a message that could stand some adjustment.
The storm is only the latest unexpected development to knock Mitt Romney off his original focus of jobs, jobs, jobs. His selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate turned attention to Medicare and Ryan's plan to transform the entitlement into a voucher program for those under 55 years old. That is a hard sell in Florida, where 18 percent of the population — more than 3.4 million residents — are on Medicare. Exempting everyone 55 or older from any changes does not mean those older voters do not care about the future of the program.
The firestorm over Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin and his reprehensible comments explaining his opposition to abortion rights, even in cases of rape, hasn't helped either. His absurd contention that pregnancies in such assaults are "really rare" because "if it's a legitimate rape, the female has ways to shut that whole thing down" was quickly denounced by Romney. But Romney and other Republicans could not persuade Akin to drop out, and Democrats have been able to spotlight the Republican Party platform that opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Romney supports those exceptions, but that distinction has become lost in a controversy that will not go away.
On more than one Sunday talk show, the focus remained on Romney's weaknesses rather than his strengths. Opinion polls show President Barack Obama with significant leads among women and black and Hispanic voters. The map and the math — the state-by-state calculations of how to get to the 270 electoral votes to win the presidency — still favor an incumbent president saddled with high unemployment rates and a shaky economy. Yet rather than expand the tent, the Romney strategy plays to the fears of middle-class white voters, from airing an untrue ad about Obama dropping welfare-to-work requirements to an indirect nod to "birthers" who still question whether the president is an American citizen. Romney said his comments that there is no uncertainty about his own birthplace were meant as a joke, but nobody is laughing and his intent is clear.
There is a better way, as former Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suggested in published and broadcast interviews over the weekend. For example, he acknowledged that the tough anti-immigrant rhetoric is not helpful if the idea is to attract Hispanics and other minorities to the Republican Party. In Sunday's Tampa Bay Times, Bush even suggested that a meaningful plan to reduce the federal deficit will have to include adding some revenue. Bush is hardly a fan of tax increases, but he is much more realistic about what it will take to reduce the budget deficit than the Ryan approach and more specific than the Romney outline.
Today's convention weather delay is as much political as practical. It's smart to keep everyone as safe and dry as possible, and the optics of opening a convention as another part of the Gulf Coast is slammed by a hurricane would not be good. But Republicans can use the down time. They need to regroup and refocus on a more inclusive, pragmatic argument that voters should send someone new to the White House.