Dispatches From the Republican National Convention

Why Mitt Romney Needs One Good Sentence
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Aug. 30 2012 7:03 PM

Dispatches From the Republican National Convention

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Mitt Romney needs one good sentence.

Soundbite Glasses Photo
GOP style

Richard Kalvar/Magnum Photos for Slate.

What does Mitt Romney have to do in his speech tonight? Be positive—Ryan took care of the attacks—and he needs to weave himself into the values and aspirations of his audience. He needs to create a path for those who want to abandon Obama without feeling bad about it and he has to show his heart.

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

What does that mean? I'm not sure, exactly, but it was Jeb Bush's advice. Usually it means show people some authentic piece of yourself that they can use to help them feel like they can trust you with the job. Of course there will be other bits too—narrow-casted passages for women and young women. 

But what Mitt Romney really needs to do is give voters one sentence.   

I think it's all gotten too complicated here in Tampa. The Romney folks say the candidate's speech is the culmination of a narrative that started on Tuesday. Tonight is the point where Mitt Romney steps into the Romney-shaped square in the mosaic that has been created over the last couple of days. 

Maybe. What might be more effective is a single sentence or passage that can be replayed over and over, put into the Romney ads that will run in the days following, and that doesn't need any setup. What's needed is the sentence in the subject line of the email that will go out the next morning. Something like George Bush from 2000 whose refrain was, "They have not led, we will."

TV-boy wants a sound bite. Actually, I'd love a narratively interesting speech with surprises, new details, big themes, and rhetoric that gives you chills. I can have that and a sound bite. (And really this speech tonight is about what I want.) As Peggy Noonan has explained so well, a sound bite is the culmination of good writing and a good argument. "Ask not what your country can do ..." or "The only thing we have to fear ..." represented the sharpest point of the speeches behind them. So if Romney can deliver a single sentence then it will mean that beneath the pyramid's capstone there is a solid block-by-block foundation.

This is not an attempt to set expectations for Romney too high. Expectations should be low. These speeches are hard because there's so much to do—introduce yourself, attack the president, make some claim about the country that resonates, and come across as winning. Romney is not a great speech-maker and his speeches so far this campaign have been long on assertion and short on rhetorical beauty. No need for that tonight. He's running against Mr. Rhetoric. Indeed, you could imagine a sort-of humble, aw-shucks-I'm-not-very-good-at-this joke that would get everyone with an open mind in the mood to embrace him. 

This is Mitt Romney's biggest open shot for making the case for why he should be president. There will be a lot of sentences, but all he needs is one good one.

John 

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage from the GOP convention.

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