Republican National Convention: Ann Romney and Chris Christie -- Two Stars Are Born
On its first night of primetime broadcast coverage, the 2012 Republican National Convention created two new TV stars: First Lady-hopeful Ann Romney and potential 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie. Viewers may differ on whether or not they succeeded in their mission – to make nominee Mitt Romney look like a warm, trustworthy human being as well as a tough, gutsy leader – but both succeeded in coming off as vivid, three-dimensional characters themselves.
What kind of a show did the GOP put on for its opening night?
Talking about her husband, Romney said the theme of her speech was love, and it was full of personal details (including repeated references to the high school dance where they met) meant to explain why she still loves him after 43 years of marriage – and why women voters, in particular, should love him too.
For New Jersey Governor Christie, the theme was respect, but his was a more fiery speech meant to highlight differences between the two parties and to assure voters that Romney has the stones to make unpopular choices and tackle government spending, as Christie has in New Jersey. These were the two new faces of the Republican party: loving mom and fearsome enforcer, or, as NBC's Tom Brokaw put it, good cop and tough cop.
"I love you women!" Mrs. Romney shouted, sounding not unlike Oprah WInfrey, one of several pop culture icons she evoked over the course of her 20-minute speech. There were shout-outs to working moms, single moms, and stay-at-home moms like herself. Despite the Romneys' lavish wealth, she insisted that she and Mitt had "a real marriage," not a storybook one. She spoke of their newlywed days, when they lived in a basement apartment and subsisted on tuna and pasta; of living in a house with five screaming boys; and (in the briefest of mentions) of her struggles with multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.
In TV terms, she was part Lynette Scavo (the frazzled Desperate Housewives mom who's secretly the one who wears the pants in her family), part Carol Brady (blonde, radiant, and cheerful despite having raised a whole Bunch of kids), and part Marge Simpson (showing that her husband, whom no one else seems to love, must be lovable because he's earned her love).
Christie, in TV terms, was more a Tony Soprano – a rotund, charismatic Jersey strongman who longs for the days of strong, stoic movie heroes – who had finally found his Gary Cooper in Mitt Romney. Actually, he spent more of his 25-minute speech touting his own record of cutting taxes and battling public-sector unions in New Jersey than he did touting Romney's bona fides. As befits a Garden State guy, he managed to work references to Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town and Jersey Shore into a single sentence.
Christie repeatedly hammered Democrats for their supposed unwillingness to make tough choices and cut government spending on popular programs, actions he said Romney and the Republicans would be unafraid to take. Then again, it may be hard for voters to buy a line like "We all must share in the sacrifice" from a guy who looks like he's never ordered a six-inch cheesesteak instead of a footlong.
The convention set worked more to Ann Romney's advantage than to Christie's. To humanize the candidate, convention organizers spent a reported $2.5 million to make the stage look like a warm, intimate living room, with dark wood and skylights. (Perhaps they forgot that only people as rich as the Romneys can afford to spend $2.5 million decorating a giant living room.) There was also an elaborate array of different-sized video screens. During Romney's speech, they showed old family photos of her husband as a young dad, while a blue background contrasted nicely with her red dress.
Christie's speech began with a shot of a New Jersey souvenir postcard (evoking the cover of Springsteen's Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.), followed by a slideshow of iconic Americana (the Statue of Liberty, the St. Louis Arch, amber waves of grain). This probably played better in the hall than on TV, where all viewers could see were blobs of color behind the orator. When the blue gave way to flickering orange, it looked like Christie was delivering his speech in front of a hellish bonfire.
Christie ran a minute over time, so some viewers may have missed the last few moments of his speech, or the walk-off he got from 3 Doors Down, who performed their new song "One Light." With network talking heads commenting, viewers could barely hear the aggressive arena-rock anthem, with its lyrics about "fists of rage." Romney may have warmed up the American living room, but it was Christie and his fists of rage that got the last word.