At last, the real Mitt Romney - but can he be as likeable as Obama?

Aug 31, 2012

Romney tries to shake off his wooden image with a highly personal speech to the Republican convention

Getty Images

MITT ROMNEY formally accepted the Republican nomination for presidential candidate at his party's convention in Florida last night. Making the biggest speech of his life, the 65-year-old sought to dispel his reputation for woodenness and to focus on the "disappointment" of Barack Obama's presidency.

Accused in the past of lacking emotion, Romney seemed almost moved to tears twice during his speech, choking up when recalling the wonder of waking with his wife to find "a pile of kids asleep in our room".

Speaking about the current incumbent, Romney tried to tap into the disappointment some of those who voted for Obama now feel. He said: "You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him."

Romney was forced to speed his speech up after Clint Eastwood, his surprise warm-up act, overran significantly in an embarrassingly rambling ad-libbed speech which meant he missed the beginning of his primetime TV slot.

"Mitt scores!" said the New York Post of an evening that "introduced Americans to the real Mitt Romney for the first time". The paper felt Romney understood the "millions of Americans who were genuinely filled with 'fresh excitement' by Obama's election ... and who are now sorely disillusioned by his non-leadership".

"What America needs is jobs - lots of jobs," said Romney. "Obama may be the only person in America who doesn't see that," said the Post.

Romney "delivered", said Rich Lowry for Fox News. His "workmanlike" speech "didn't soar" - but that was because it wasn't meant to: Romney painted himself as down-to-earth in contrast to an over-promising Obama. And it would "take a heart of stone … not to be impressed by his sincere devotion to his family".

USA Today said Romney "finally defined himself" as a "cheerful conservative capable of rescuing the country from economic collapse", before concluding "Romney and Ryan leave Tampa not just on a campaign but a mission. They plan to talk about solutions, not hope and change".

The Washington Post hailed the speech as a "high-definition showcase of Mitt the man - an all-out effort to convince voters of his character, compassion and convictions" from the normally "awkward and emotionally distant" multimillionaire.

But, also writing for the Post, Harold Meyerson felt there was "such a thing as too much humanisation". Romney was forced to spend 20 minutes pitching himself as "Grandpa of the Year" because his policies make him look like Ebeneezer Scrooge, said Meyerson. But he over-cooked it and ended up sounding like he was auditioning for the role of Tiny Tim.

In more measured terms, the The Boston Globe said Romney had "missed a chance to articulate a fully convincing game plan of his own" and instead "served the ball cleanly into Obama's court" leaving the president with a good chance to return the volley.

For The New York Times, Frank Bruni said the "mushy" speech, "wet with humanity" was almost irrelevant anyway because Romney is "never going to match Obama's likeability". The election will be fought and won on percentages - if more Americans are worse off now than they were in 2008, Romney will win.

Sign up for our daily newsletter