Thursday night capped off a successful three-day Republican National Convention, ending with the acceptance speech of the party’s nominee, former MA Gov. and businessman, Mitt Romney. Before I got to that point in my day, however, I had already been going strong for 12 straight hours.
I had gotten used to the security procedures by that point and figured out my way around the convention area, so things were a bit easier. I started out attending the Empower America reunion put together by Jack Kemp’s son, Jim Kemp.
This was an incredibly moving and inspiring event. People who worked with Kemp during his early days in Congress back in the 1970s all the way up to those who never met him, but who are working on behalf of the Jack Kemp Foundation were there. Following a reception, a panel discussion took place. There was easily a half-dozen former U.S. Senators who spoke as well as journalists and academics. Former U.S. Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), who served as the first president of Empower America, led the panel, which constantly saw people rotate on and off the stage because there were not enough chairs for the number of people who participated. Everyone from conservative stalwarts such as Bill Kristol and Larry Kudlow to the liberal Al Hunt spoke, not to mention former U.S. Senators Connie Mack (R-Fla.), Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) as well as Catholic theologian / philosopher / writer Michael Novak just to name a few. To put this in perspective, there were other notables such as Fred Barnes and former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) in the room who were not even brought up on stage to speak.
There was a great deal of discussion about how GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who also worked at Empower America for Kemp the next cubicle over from me, was carrying on the Kemp legacy today. The night before, Ryan had given his speech and mentioned Kemp in it. The word we got was that was the one thing that Ryan fought with the campaign to leave in his speech and he got his way on it. Unfortunately, Ryan was unable to break away to make it to the Empower America reunion due to other commitments.
At the conclusion of the forum, I crossed the hall to join the Republican National Lawyers Association reception. This was to have been held earlier in the week, but was postponed due to Tropical Storm Isaac. The event was held in the same location as the previous day’s Wisconsin delegation event and was packed with noted GOP attorneys from around the country.
Later in the afternoon, I joined members of the Virginia delegation for a reception held in honor of them and had a chance to speak with a few old friends. Given that this was the final night of the convention, I decided to head over early to make sure I did not get stuck in any long security lines. Fortunately, I had been given an Operations credential, which got me pretty much into wherever I wanted to go (with obvious exceptions.) After picking up a few souvenirs for my family at the gift shop, I caught up with some old friends that I had not seen in a while. Finally, I headed down to the convention floor where I conducted an interview with Del. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) about his run for Lt. Governor in 2013. (Watch for this coming soon!) Then it was time to settle in for the night. I chose a seat with a nearly straight on view that was high enough so I could make everything out on stage and its surroundings as well as the crowd so I could gauge their reactions to the speeches.
The evening began with a moving tribute film to President Reagan that not only celebrated the man and his many achievements, but also served to highlight the stark contrast between him and the current occupant of the Oval Office who seems to be living by the motto of “What Would Ronald Reagan NOT Do?” Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush spoke shortly thereafter, accompanied by a teacher and a student who benefitted from the school choice reforms he put in place during his tenure in office. Before getting into the topic of education, Gov. Bush noted that it had been nearly four years since President Obama assumed office and that real leaders would have assumed responsibility by now. In the bluntest of terms, Jeb told Obama that it was time to stop blaming his brother and basically to man up.
Several speakers followed that shed light on who Mitt Romney is — members of his church who were helped by him while he served as their bishop, businessmen (including the founder of Staples) who were helped by him during his time at Bain Capital, and members of his administration from his time as Massachusetts Governor. Among the most impressive was his chief job creation officer, a liberal Democrat African American woman, who had a great personal story to tell that epitomizes why independent voters should have confidence in what a President Romney would do in office to get the economy moving again.
Finally, the 10 p.m. hour was upon us. By now, it was all but confirmed that the “mystery” speaker would be actor Clint Eastwood. There has been much public speculation as to whether Eastwood was drunk or is just getting old, but in the convention center, that wasn’t the impression at all. Eastwood entered to the music from his film, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” with a large graphic of him from that film right behind him and the crowd erupted wildly.
No one knew what to expect, with some people speculating that he might do something along the lines of his Super Bowl commercial about it being “half-time in America” and how we can mount a comeback because we’re Americans and we can do anything we set our minds to accomplishing. I think it is safe to say that there wasn’t a soul who thought Eastwood would come out and do completely off the cuff remarks that basically amounted to a stand-up comedy routine without using a teleprompter (other than as a prop for the empty chair that he used to represent where President Obama was supposed to be sitting for their conversation.)
One of the best lines he had was, “What do you want me to tell Romney? I can’t tell him to do that, he can’t do that to himself. You’re absolutely crazy. You’re getting as bad as Biden. Of course we all know that Biden is the intellect of the Democratic Party. Kind of a grin with a body behind it.” Rewatch the speech and think about some of the points he makes starting around the 8 min. 30 sec. mark, particularly regarding the plight of the unemployed and that the American people are the ones who own this country while politicians are merely employees of ours. His high point was when he said that when someone doesn’t do the job, you’ve got to let them go.
Next up was U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who gave a powerful speech, recounting the hard work and sacrifice that his parents made so that their children could have better lives. It was easy to see why Rubio had made Romney’s short-list for VP and many people afterwards noted that this speech has pushed his star even higher.
Last, but certainly not least, former MA Gov. Mitt Romney came out to formally accept the GOP nomination for president. Romney entered through the convention hall, stopping to shake hands with people all along the way. He spent quite a bit of time greeting the Virginia delegation, which was seated right near the stage. Romney proceeded to give a nearly 40 minute speech in which he noted that today, for the first time in our nation’s history, people do not believe that their children will have a better life than they had. He finally opened up about himself — how his father never went to college and apprenticed as a plaster carpenter; that after his father succeeded in the automobile industry that he wanted to blaze his own path where he would know he had earned his success on his own; the challenges of raising five boys; and the importance of his faith.
He then gave the part of his speech that will be food for thought for many Americans:
You know there is something wrong with the kind of job [Obama] has done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.
The president has not disappointed you because he wanted to. The president has disappointed America because he hasn’t lead America in the right direction. He took office without the basic qualification that most Americans have, and one that was essential to the task at hand. He had almost no experience working in a business. Jobs to him are about government.
He used that as a springboard to talk about his own business career that helped launch Staples, Sports Authority, Bright Horizons, and Steel Dynamics and defended the very notion of success. He noted that Americans have been patient with President Obama, waiting for him to turn things around, but that turnaround has never happened and now it is time for someone else to take the lead. Overall, it was a speech that played very well in both the hall and from the accounts I have heard from those who watched it on television.
With the convention behind us, it was time for the after-party. As we were exiting the convention, who did we spot but Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz outside of the CNN Grille.
From there, it was off to Liberty Plaza for the hottest ticket in town, the Creative Coalition’s event featuring a concert by Journey (at the Democratic convention in Charlotte this week, the concert will be by The B-52s.) Word was that tickets were so hard to come by that even some U.S. Senators, including New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, had spent the day going around the town in search of them. We did spot Ayotte at the show, so her quest was obviously a success.
Among the actors to take the stage were Tim Daly (best known as Joe Hackett on “Wings”) and Carol Kane who played Andy Kaufman’s wife on “Taxi.” Then Journey finally took the stage just after midnight and played 12 of the 15 songs on their Greatest Hits album plus a few others, but not before an extended “Star Spangled Banner” rendition by guitarist Neal Schon and keyboard player Jonathan Cain kicked it all off. That led into the song “Any Way You Want It.” The show didn’t wrap up until nearly 2 a.m. and by that time I was ready to head back to my hotel to grab 2 hours sleep before hopping on the plane back home.
That’s it for my reports from Tampa. Not it is up to you. Inform yourself about the candidates running in this November’s election — not just those on the ballot for president, but also for U.S. Senate and U.S. Congress. Go beyond whether someone simply sounds or looks good — learn what they stand for and what they want to do in office. Then be sure to cast an informed vote on Election Day. More than ever before, your vote may decide which way Virginia goes and in turn, where our country will head in the future.