The commentariat is being fair and balanced this morning in assessing the last night of the Republican convention.

The consensus seems to be Romney did ok with his speech, met expectations. Eastwood was weird, and whether you think that’s a good or bad thing depends on your political leanings (Erick Erickson at Red State argues it worked where it counted) and Rubio ‘thrilled’ the crowd.

I beg to differ. Looking at this as a pro, in an industry where people write and speak for a living, I thought the night was weak, and weak in a way that reveals the heart of the Republican problem.

The first and worst thing about Thursday night was the big missed opportunity. Someone hired by the GOP did a very, very good short movie about Mitt Romney. It effortlessly hit all the notes the campaign has been reaching for; the movie humanized Romney enormously, even to the point of poking fun at him a little. It was hands down the strongest stuff of the convention and should have run in the 10 pm hour, when the broadcast networks were covering the night.

It didn’t, which was a loss. As for Eastwood, it was strange, awkward, though he landed well, finishing with words to the effect of ‘If someone isn’t working out, you have to let them go.’ Whether that point makes up for the strangeness which preceded it is debatable.

I thought the Rubio speech was weak, lacking in substance, and by substance I mean the necessary, minimal amount of exposition you have to put into a speech in order to get to the popular parts. Rubio’s was pretty much all popular parts, all applause lines, with a little personal story thrown in. It was like sitting down to an all-dessert meal.

Romney was better, but not much, and his speech seemed to suffer from the same ailment as Rubio’s – there was no there, there. Because the campaign apparently has made a decision to tack toward “Barack Obama’s a nice guy, just a bad President,” the speeches couldn’t even muster an effective list of the President’s shortcomings. Neither Rubio’s nor Romney’s speech was well-organized; the attack lines just popped up, and then vanished.

The problem, of course, is that the Republicans mostly have to make up bad things to say about Obama. Andrew Sullivan calls the Romney speech “The Huge Lie,” and I agree. (Read Sullivan’s piece here.) And if the case against Obama is largely a lie, you have to do a lot of twisting and turning when you talk about it, and your solutions aren’t likely to have much to do with the real world.

There is a measured case to be made against President Obama, but it works far better from the left than the right – that Obama was timid in dealing with the economic crisis, that he has perpetuated and expanded on the worst aspects of the ‘War on Terror,’ that we have taken too long to get ourselves out of Afghanistan. You could catch hints of that critique in both Eastwood and Rand Paul, but there is no way for this Republican Party to let those arguments become part of the canon. In fact, after three days of convention, plus a week of roll-up, it’s plainer than ever that the right has no coherent case against Obama, and is stuck pretty much at petulance. Or as candidate Romney said this morning, “This is our country, and we’re taking it back.”


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