By promoting misleading statements and outright lies, Republicans botched their convention and left the Romney/Ryan ticket on the defensive. The Tampa event was the least successful convention since Democrat George McGovern gave his acceptance speech at 2:00 am at the Party’s 1972 Miami event. The GOP’s biggest mistake was instilling in Democrats a deep sense of grievance over Republicans lying about Obama’s record. This gives the convention opening tonight a sharper edge, with Democrats eager to watch speakers set the record set straight. Democrats no longer need to provide detailed plans for the next four years; rather, they can ridicule the Romney/Ryan retreat to Fantasyland.
Polls show Republicans got little bounce from their convention, with Romney's speech the least popular since Bob Dole's in 1996. These poll numbers are no surprise. The fiasco in Tampa left people talking about Romney/Ryan’s lies and Clint Eastwood’s speech rather than the ticket’s vision for the future or the deficiencies of the Obama Administration.
The GOP’s biggest mistake was relying on angry and false messages that galvanized Democrats.
Ronald Reagan understood that it helped to smile or laugh when attacking welfare and poor people, so his fictional accounts of "welfare queens" driving to the supermarket in Cadillacs did not lead voters to define him as mean. In contrast, Paul Ryan came off as a mean-spirited liar, while Mitt Romney simply lied
Many Democrats have their own criticisms of Obama, but still get angry when the president’s actions are lied about. And they are angry over the GOP's mean spirited attacks on the progressive parts of the president's agenda.
When Ryan blamed Obama for an auto plant closure in Ryan’s own district of Janesville that occurred under President Bush, and then refused to admit he lied when confronted with facts, it gets Democrats eager to see him get his comeuppance. Ryan could have cited a nearby auto plant that did close during Obama’s presidency, but preferred to send his billionaire backers a strong message about his willingness to lie on their behalf.
Lies Replace the Economy
If the GOP had kept its focus on the nation’s economy, the Democratic convention would have become one long defense of Obama’s record. And that’s what the GOP convention should have done. Instead, Republicans chose a strategy of lies and boilerplate promises that left voters clueless as to their specific plans for the future.
The challenging party must provide a specific economic plan to take advantage of a weak economy. Supply-side economics was a new name for trickle down, but it enabled Reagan in 1980 to claim that he had a specific plan to end the nation's economic crisis.
Romney-Ryan continues to make this election about Romney’s business and personal issues and broader values rather than as a litmus test on the economy. From the selection of Medicare-bashing Paul Ryan to the convention’s reliance on lies over facts, the GOP keeps making Obama’s task easier.
As a result, expect a parade of speakers this week ridiculing Romney and particularly Ryan for their lies. Bill Clinton is especially good at making fun of opponent’s arguments, and Democrats should be glad that they have given him a prime speaking spot.
Clinton will pound on Romney’s incessant lies about Obama “gutting” the welfare reform law, and will set the record straight on which party is responsible for massive budget deficits. It will not be a good night for the GOP.
Clint Eastwood criticized Obama for being an attorney, but Republicans could have learned something about convention strategies by consulting trial lawyers. These attorneys know that it is risky to make claims in a closing statement that your opponent has a chance to easily rebut. This means that the first convention must always be stricter on facts, and such events should put inspiration and vision ahead of specific, easily refutable charges.
In other words, if you lie to a jury when you give the first opening statement, you have to know that your opponent will remind the jury of your lie. The same holds true for lying to the electorate.
There is a jury instruction that reads, “A witness willfully false in one portion of their testimony should be disbelieved in others.” That’s very bad news for Paul Ryan and the Romney-Ryan ticket.
Romney-Ryan threw the Democrats a big soft pitch that the Obama campaign and the Democrats in Charlotte will hit out of the park. There will be no surprises in Charlotte, and the Party will leave more galvanized than ever.
I think the nature of the Republican campaign has particularly rejuvenated progressives long unhappy with Obama. Many are still angry over his choice of a convention city with all non-union hotels. I described this choice in February 2011 as a “slap in the face of organized labor
” and it is---but when you hear speaker after speaker in Tampa bash teachers unions in the most vicious and ignorant terms, the fact that such unions will be praised at the podium this week is welcoming.
Progressives also seek payback for the GOP’s condescending attitude toward women exhibited in Tampa, and its contempt for millions of Latino immigrants. For all the Democratic Party’s faults and corporate funding, the delegates attending the Charlotte convention will at least look like America.
Randy Shaw is the author of The Activist’s Handbook
and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.