Mitt Romney accepted the Republican nomination for president Thursday night and offered one concrete reason that he should be elected: He's not President Barack Obama. The former Massachusetts governor played on fears about the weak economy, characterized Obama as a failure who cannot lead the nation to prosperity and argued he has the business experience to create millions of jobs. It was a credible performance that ended a perfunctory Republican National Convention, but Romney's broad promises remain vague and unconvincing.
Romney fleshed out his biography a bit through testimonials and a video. Speakers movingly described his service in the Mormon church. He talked of his experience leading the private equity firm Bain Capital, although in a sanitized version that neglected to mention the firm laid off thousands of workers. The heartfelt references to his family added some warmth.
But Romney's five-step plan for creating 12 million jobs remains superficial and uninspiring. He wants the nation to be energy independent by 2020, but his plan includes coal and more drilling. He called for school choice but not for improving public schools. He wants to reduce the federal deficit and cut tax rates but did not say which programs he would cut or which tax breaks he would end.
Instead, Romney focused on Obama and called him a disappointment. "You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he's done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him,'' Romney said in his prepared remarks. "Many Americans have given up on this president, but they haven't ever thought about giving up.''
Unmentioned were the millions of jobs that were saved by the stimulus package, the jobs that have been created in the last year and the gridlock in Washington created by congressional Republicans.
This political convention was more obligatory than celebratory. Republicans are more interested in defeating Obama than in embracing Romney, and the lack of enthusiasm for the nominee was eclipsed only by the lack of interest in specifics and facts. Republicans promised Romney would pursue bold ideas but offered few details. They said he would save Medicare but avoided mentioning he would transform it into a voucher system. The closest policy wonk/running mate Paul Ryan came to describing their budget plans was arguing for a federal spending cap of 20 percent of gross domestic product. Voters can digest a few more details than that, even in a convention speech.
What is clear is that the Republican Party is in transition. It is losing Hispanic and women voters, and it lost black voters a long time ago. The tea party crowd is working from both the outside and the inside, and the Ron Paul cabal is unhappy. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. John McCain spoke hours before the television networks tuned in. Former Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush weren't in Tampa, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appears comfortable in private life. The takeover by the rising generation of more strident conservatives, including Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio, is well under way but not quite complete.
Romney became the functional head of the party when he accepted the Republican nomination for president. Whether he can unite the party's factions and generations into enthusiastic supporters rather than merely opponents of the incumbent president is another question. He took a positive step Thursday night with the party faithful, but he is a long way from closing the sale to the rest of the nation.