Christie Speech a Key to Romney’s Effort to Re-Brand GOP

“This is when we put our stamp on the Republican Party.”

-- Senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign talking to Power Play about the Republican National Convention.

TAMPA -- What is Romney Republicanism? If the soon-to-be Republican nominee has his way, there will be a clear answer to that question at the end of this week.

For most successful presidential candidates, their own brand and that of their party meld into each other – that by winning the nomination that have also remade their party into something that matches their own vision and ideals.

For Bill Clinton in 1992, it was towards a pragmatic, center-left Democratic Party. For George W. Bush in 2000 it was towards a “compassionate conservatism” that sought to apply the values of the religious right beyond just social issues and into realms like education and public assistance.

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For Barack Obama in 2008 it was about reclaiming his party’s liberal roots on domestic and foreign policy, an undoing of Clinton’s “third way” centrism.

But what does Mitt Romney’s Republican Party look like?

As a moderate former governor of a Northeasters blue state, Romney doesn’t speak the natural language of a staunchly conservative party dominated by the South.

Making it more complicated for the man who will accept his party’s nomination on Thursday, Romney won the prize in a war of attrition in which a series of foes with deeper connections to the GOP base flamed out. Romney won on endurance and electability, not ideology.

But now Republicans all need to be singing out of the same hymnal. Not only is it important for purposes of party unity and enthusiasm, it crucial for telling an understandable story to persuadable but skeptical voters.

Romney has pushed all his chips onto the brand of reform Republicanism. Yes, the candidate will always primarily be identified as a business-friendly, economic operator. But Romney’s hope, best illustrated in his selection of reform-minded Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, is to graft his corporate identity onto the movement of which his running mate is a leader.

As Romney explained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, his goal is to use this reform movement – a push for smaller government, more transparent practices and more federal accountability – as the means by which he achieves the economic goals he has set for the nation.

It’s as if Romney is the consultant who has come in to turn around a sagging corporation. And while a consultant might turn to a method like ISO 9000 for accountability or Lean Six Sigma for efficiency, Romney is aiming to use Ryan-style reform conservatism to overhaul a federal government now widely seen as wasteful, burdensome and sclerotic.

Reform suits Romney well because while it is rooted in conservative thinking on the size and role of government, it is the pragmatic application of those ideas. It is a tool that suits a candidate who presents himself as the turnaround artist for a struggling nation.

While the star turn for viewers at home in tonight’s Republican National Committee program will no doubt come from the candidate’s telegenic and popular wife, Ann, the most important speech for the folks in the hall will come from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie, the socially moderate governor of a Northeastern blue state, is not the typical Republican. But with Romney so long out of office and his tenure having been most famous for a bipartisan health law that is unpopular among Republicans, Romney is presenting Christie as an example of the kind of governance he believes in.

Social issues will take a back seat and foreign policy will get little attention tonight. The message is all about placing Romney on this new ideological turf and explaining to Republicans why reform conservatism is the best way to govern and the best way to beat Barack Obama.

The schedule tonight features other governors famous for their reform ideologies. Scott Walker from Wisconsin, Bob McDonnell from Virginia and Brian Sandoval from Nevada. And like Christie, they will be seeking to talk about the applied conservatism that is central to their governing styles and how that meshes with Romney’s vision for the party.

But Christie is the most famous and most passionate advocate of the brand. His pugilistic style and humor will help delegates who might have preferred a nominee in a more traditional GOP mold to put together this new picture of Romney.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Ryan just has this aspect to him where when he says, ‘I am who I am,’ and he talks about thinking about the future while hunting, he stands on the field on that hill, you know it's completely authentic.

One reason that youth is not a problem for him he speaks so seriously.  Dan Quayle had a bad rollout, and as a result he didn't look serious, although he was serious.  So his youth really hurt him.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at