Ben Smith and Dave Weigel on the RNC Love Debate and the Truthiness of ‘You Didn’t Build That’

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US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife Ann speaks at the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, on August 28, 2012. Romney's image will get a carefully scripted makeover during the convention as the Republican White House hopeful aims to close the yawning likability gap between himself and President Barack Obama.
Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty

From today until Election Day, a broad range of writers, pundits, politicians, and thinkers will discuss the presidential race for Daily Intel. Today, in the kickoff to Instant Politics 2012, Slate's Dave Weigel and Buzzfeed's Ben Smith talk about Chris Christie's off-key keynote, Ann Romney's tear-jerking paean to normalcy, and the GOP's "We Built That" fixation.

Ben Smith: Let's start with the big speeches last night. What went wrong for Chris Christie?

Dave Weigel: Are we already agreeing that Christie blew it? "We" meaning the elite East Coast Bilderburg media.

Ben: Yeah that was the consensus. Within about five minutes of his beginning. These things set fast these days.

Dave: See, I got the text — everyone on the press list got the text and thought it read fine, but by the end I was thrown by Christie's decision to make himself the rallying cry. “I'm ready to tell the truth if you are." Isn't one of the knocks on Obama that he has a huge ego?

Ben: The speech also wasn't supposed to be next to Ann's. That was a last minute call because of the Hurricane, and someone in there must have said, "We don't want her to follow Christie.” But as it turned out, it wasn't really possible to follow her.

Dave: This led to the Opposite Day discussion of love that your guy realized long before I did.

Ben: It was pretty amazing. Like some sort of student debate. Love: For the affirmative, Ann Romney. For the negative, Chris Christie.

Dave: RESOLVED: Love makes you weak and feeble. I watched Ann from the floor, and mostly watched the way women were reacting.

Ben: What did you see?

Dave: Countless handkerchiefs and wet eyes and clasped hands. The cornpone stuff went over very well — the tell, not show stuff.

Ben: Yeah — she seemed to veer away from Mitt in the last third of the speech.

Dave: Clucking sounds of recognition when Ann talked about the "basement apartment," etc.

Ben: Tuna fish!

Dave: Romneys: They're just like us.

Ben: That's the holy grail these days: normalcy. Maybe they should leak a photo of Romney with a gut and Ann in her sweatpants, eating Cheetos in front of the TV?

Dave: I couldn't quite tell what she was trying to rebut with the "real marriage" line. It fit, I guess, within the theme of Real Americans wearing plaid and being Real. There were no Bain Capital executives trotted out to make the case for Building That. There were people who wrought metal and moved boxes and (paraphrasing now) slaughtering hogs. Seems totally fair.

Ben: Also a lot of women and people of color. It's actually a genuine tribute to the Republican Party how over the last decade they've cultivated a very diverse middle rank.

Dave: I was more skeptical of Christie saying Republicans would tell seniors "the truth," because seniors were "not greedy.” By the way, watch this commercial about how we will restore $716 billion to seniors and never ever cut their benefits.

Ben: But we promise not to take that money away! Not a penny!

Dave: Interesting what you say about the middle rank. Were you impressed by Mia Love? I'm unable to recall any phrase from that speech.

Ben: I had low expectations. When McKay Coppins was out there and interviewed her she came across as just the rawest candidate. She asked us to put a fund-raising button on our website. Her speech worked in the room, for sure, though yeah, I don't have a clear takeaway.

Dave: This is a pretty obvious point, but when the GOP finds a nonwhite politician with any natural talent, the politician is made up and shoved onstage within five minutes. I mean, Michael Steele got a prime-time speech in 2008 when he was just the former LG of Maryland.

Ben: And when he ran for chairman, Republicans were operating in the shadow of the election of the first black president.

Dave: I watched Artur Davis from the cluster of Southern states and got pretty good at predicting which zingers would make the largely white delegates proud of the convert. Can we discuss the candidate for LG of Delaware? I just want there to be one post-game analysis that mentions Delaware.

Ben: Uh, go for it.

Dave: Well, her whole sale was that she built a business. Not the government! And of course your guy Andy pointed out that she advises people on how to score government contracts.

Ben: Complicated world.

Dave: The entire theme of the night was (1) based on a sort of misrepresentation and (2) untenable.

Ben: I'll actually take (3) rooted in a real argument about the role of government, if drawn in a bit of caricature for an election year. Obama was in fact making a kind of communitarian argument and Romney's making an individualistic one and obviously both reduce to the absurd. But I don't see why everyone has to go around yelling "liar" whenever a political candidate puts things in fairly stark terms.

Dave: We need more, not less pedantry.

Ben: That should really be "Weigel's motto." Mine can be: "The Context is out there."

Dave: I'll say the same thing if Democrats come out next week and start saying Romney "likes to fire people."

Ben: Which is also caricature but also rooted in his hard-edged business practice and genuine policy positions on giving businesses freedom to fire people.

Dave: Yes, he wants to freeze then cut the federal workforce.

Ben: And he wants to free public administrators to fire people.

Dave: Not the media, or something. But this explains my "built that" pedantry. Christie explains that his father got to college on the GI bill, another one of the speakers talks about how he works with the government.

Ben: And thus they are all disqualified instantly from being conservatives? What about public nursery school, would that be disqualifying? This is such a straw man.

Dave: None of it's disqualifying. There's a government. It employs some people.

Ben: Nobody in fact argues that there should not be government, except possibly Rosie Gray's associates with the black bandannas over their faces.

Dave: Oh, those guys. I have enjoyed her stories. But these are the weakest protests since 2000 at least, right?

Ben: Sure seems like it.

Dave: What explains that? Is Florida just a poor breeding ground for liberal protesters?

Ben: The logistics are terrible. No public transportation. Are they supposed to pay for parking? Rosie's take was that the local protesters were particularly anemic and had been fortified by 70 or 80 occupiers from New York.  Whatever local law enforcement agency was predicting 15,000?

Dave: Apparently a police briefing on the protests was canceled today for the same reason why there wasn't a police briefing on the leprechauns outside.

Ben: I hope they were able to bring in a lot of Homeland Security money to buy themselves new police cars to counter the anarchist threat.

Dave: I'll think kindly of this next time I visit Tampa and get a speeding violation spotted by a police drone.

Ben: Meanwhile do you know any more about this alleged racist incident last night, where attendees called a CNN cameraman an "animal"?

Dave: No.

Ben: Ha!

Dave: I was too busy watching Ron Paul voters yell to see these random racists yell.

Ben: Strange to have something like this with no video. Throwback!

Dave: Yeah — the cameramen turned off the camera for this? Also, "attendees" is a weird phrase when big primary colored badges indicate how we're all there.

Ben: In a particularly classy move, Team Coco tried to piggyback on it. I got a promo e-mail last night, subject line "Tip: Black correspondent Deon Cole gets kicked out of GOP Convention." (He was tossed by Secret Service for going somewhere he wasn't supposed to.)

Dave: The heart aches. What are you watching for tonight? Besides racism toward cameramen.

Ben: The transformation of Condi Rice from a kind of Scowcraftian foreign policy realist with no real domestic profile into a champion of the right is really fascinating. She gave a barn-burning speech in Park City that prompted folks there to figure she wanted a real, new partisan profile.

Dave: There are definitely people who've been radicalized or moved right by Obama just as someone like Howard Dean was inspired by Bush to go from Cato-approved moderate to McGovern 2.0 (though of course Cato has a realist/anti-war foreign policy shop).

Dave: Condi keeps punting on requests to run for things, though.

Ben: And what job can a former secretary of State take that isn't a step down? Running an international institution maybe?

Dave: Obama put a former Fed chair and Treasury secretary in second-tier econ jobs. So, sure.

Ben: A final speculative question: Somebody asked me yesterday where Sarah Palin, who has been invisible at this convention aside from one troublemaking Facebook post, would be had McCain lost with Tim Pawlenty.

Dave: She'd be Susanna Martinez, right? A popular governor from a state no national paper has the resources to cover closely.

Ben: Only far enough along into her term that she'd be an obvious shortlister (assuming she had been able to govern).

Dave: Oh, she would have been. No veep nod, no wave of ethics complaints … given the attention we (again, "we" = elitists) pay to Random State Legislator Saying Something Untoward About Gays.

Ben: I'm trying to frame an argument where she's the nominee. But it's still hard to see running from Alaska.

Dave: The popular governor who goes on Fox sometimes would have a following.