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

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.