Having never attended a political convention, it didn’t take long before I wanted to be someplace other than Tampa. On Monday, the first day of the big Republican National Convention, I felt totally out of place.
“What are you doing here?” asked Tennessee congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. Minnesota’s Michelle Bachman was even more expressive. “Here you are wearing a tie, and I’m so used to seeing you outside facing the storm.”
Alas, that was the problem. Not the crowds of delegates and lobbyists, past, present and future office holders or the piles of press. Rather it was that I longed to be outside facing Isaac as the big, wet tropical storm lumbered toward New Orleans.
Having covered awful Katrina in 2005 and Gustav, the storm that interrupted the GOP convention the last time around in 2008, watching Isaac plod across the Caribbean and then aim at the just recovered Gulf Coast was surreal déjà vu.
As it turned out, the reporters on the scene in Louisiana and Mississippi did just fine without me. The big levees held, and while there was severe flooding, scattered evacuations and widespread power outages, Isaac had little of the killer punch of its predecessors.
Therefore relieved that being in Tampa instead of New Orleans did not represent a dereliction of duty, I started to enjoy the dynamic energy of the convention.
There were former presidential candidates Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, and Tim Pawlenty, plus a plethora of Congress-folk and pundits like Mary Matalin and on the phone high-profile rabble rousers like Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In this less formal setting, it was clear how many truly charming folks were on the Republican side of the aisle.
I grabbed New Mexico’s first ever Latina governor Susana Martinez and three of the five Romney sons for interviews. American Idol winner Taylor Hicks came by and played his harmonica. The Oak Ridge Boys sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Elvira.’
With no particular script and no partisan agenda, the shows were all free flow and my radio audience was treated to a series of stream of consciousness broadcasts that by the eve of Governor Romney’s big Thursday night acceptance speech had presented a fair sampling of what the GOP successfully pulled off in Tampa; presenting a portrait of Mitt Romney that was not sculpted by David Axelrod or Rahm Emanuel.
And wasn’t Clint Eastwood a trip?
Watching these earnest and committed people working so hard to portray their candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in a positive light to the American people, what I kept coming back to was the Republican Party’s fatal flaw.
How can so many smart, honest, sincerely patriotic Americans be so tone deaf to the desires, aspirations and preferences of the country they love so dearly?
Most Americans want women to have the reasonable right to have an abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or to save the life or well-being of the mother. Most women cringe when they think that a bunch of cranky old men are going to prevent them from doing what they feel they need to do to save themselves.
And do we really care so much about the traditional definition of marriage that we would deny the right of homosexuals to do what every heterosexual American is free to do? With 3 out of 4 black and 2 out of 4 Latino youngsters living in families where the mom is single, isn’t America’s real problem that couples are not getting married?
And on immigration, the issue with which I am most familiar, do Republicans really believe that the way to advance Mitt Romney’s chances of winning the White House is to make the lives of the 11 or 12 million undocumented immigrants so miserable that they will self-deport?
Clearly, abortion, gay marriage and immigration are the sort of red meat issues that appeal to the Republican base. But Governor Romney already has the red-meat vote. To win the White House he needs to broaden his appeal to win those independent voters who have not yet committed.
So ask yourselves a few questions.
Is scaring those independents about their right to determine their own physical destiny if they get pregnant by rape or incest or at a time when their very health might be imperiled a good way to win their allegiance?
Does anyone not understand why there is a gender gap?
If the undecided voters are gay, is telling them that you intend to amend the Constitution to insure they have no right to access marriage like their straight friends and neighbors a good idea?
Can a gay person who does not self-hate vote for the GOP?
Or, if they are an undecided Latino voter, is telling them that you require the cop on the corner to ask them and their children for their papers, if that cop in his own mind thinks they may be here illegally, a good way to win support for Mitt Romney?
Do the geniuses in the GOP really think that putting Latinos on stage in Tampa, even the hugely attractive senator Marco Rubio who delivered a barn-burning introduction to Mitt Romney will seal the deal with the ethnic group destined to decide the election in Nevada, New Mexico, Florida and Colorado without policy to back up the symbolism?
Does any clear thinking politician in this country not understand why Mitt Romney is polling fewer than 30% of the Latino vote, less than John McCain’s disastrous 31% and far behind George W. Bush who gained 44% in 2004?
“You can’t just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people to vote for your party or your candidate,” said Democratic Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a provocative press conference in Tampa on Tuesday.
How can Republicans who pride themselves on their competence, their love of personal freedom and their common sense be so proud and so dumb?
Mitt Romney is a good guy who could be a great president, but he’s got to reach out to all Americans, not just those who are white, male and straight.