Primetime on Tuesday night took place not just on split screens but parallel universes. On one side of the Gulf of Mexico every agency of government was being marshalled to prevent hurricane Isaac destroying New Orleans. On the other side in Tampa speaker after speaker at the Republican convention implored government to get out of the way because it was wrecking the country. Between them hovered the ghost of hurricane Katrina – an episode Republicans would rather forget, botched by a president they no longer mention.
It was a night to address Republican vulnerabilities. For a party struggling to connect with women, almost half the speakers were female; in a campaign alienating African-Americans and Latinos where the overwhelming majority of delegates are white, roughly a third of the speakers were black and Hispanic.
For a party with a nominee, Mitt Romney, the public has yet to warm to, there was his wife – Ann.
To her fell the task of explaining why she fell in love with him in the hope that the nation might follow. Before a backdrop of family snaps going back to prom night she said she was not there to talk about politics, but love. After a lengthy, scarcely veiled swipe at the economic record of Obama – the man they love to hate – she swivelled back to Mitt: the man she lives to love.
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"You should get to know him," she said. "He made me laugh." When she was done, Mitt came on for a hug to the tune of My Girl.
While Ann channelled her inner Oprah, the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, channelled his inner Soprano. After explaining how his Sicilian mother taught him to talk plainly, he chose respect over love. While Ann vouched for Mitt as a man of empathy, Christie was supposed to vouch for his steadfast principle. In the end Christie vouched more for his own record in New Jersey than Romney's candidacy. With his barnstorming style and resolute oratory, by the end of the week his enduring legacy may prove to be the warm-up act that eclipsed the main event.
But it was also a day rooted in deception. The theme was "We Built That" and dominated by testimony from small businessmen lambasting Obama for saying they did not build their businesses. To make that work they had to omit the middle of Obama's speech where he said: "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges."
The evening closed with a prayer for those in the path of the hurricane. As the winds and rain bore down on Louisiana many prayed that the levees wouldn't fail. Who, one wonders, built those?