Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Ann Romney stole the show on opening night

By David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst
updated 7:00 PM EDT, Wed August 29, 2012
Ann Romney's speech drew cheers from the audience at the Republican National Convention.
Ann Romney's speech drew cheers from the audience at the Republican National Convention.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Gergen: Ann Romney got the best reviews on the first night of the RNC
  • He says she wowed the crowd, but will her speech gain new voters for Mitt Romney?
  • Gergen: Paul Ryan faces task of pleasing the party's base and appealing to a wider audience
  • He says younger leaders are looking beyond Romney for future top candidates

Editor's note: David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Some quick thoughts from Tampa just before the Republicans raise the curtain on their second night:

Did Ann move the needle?

While some offer dissent, there is general agreement across the political spectrum that Ann Romney stole the show on opening night. Brit Hume at Fox News said she gave the most effective speech he had ever heard from a political wife -- and remembering star turns from Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Barbara and Laura Bush, that is saying a lot. John Cassidy of the New Yorker wrote, "The night belonged to Ann Romney, and she aced it." From the CNN skybox, I tweeted, "In 2004, Barack Obama was born as a national star at the Democratic convention. Tonight it was Ann Romney's turn."

David Gergen
David Gergen

The question now becomes: Did she move the needle for her husband? A few have speculated that she could have lifted his numbers by 4 percentage points. The truth is that we won't know until the numbers come in, but my hunch is, there won't be an obvious bounce. Rather, what she did is to prompt a whole lot of wavering voters to take a second look at her husband Thursday night. That is a huge contribution in a race this tight ... but it is still up to him to close the sale.

Opinion: Ann Romney did great, but won't move needle

What must Paul Ryan deliver?

The pressure is on Paul Ryan on Wednesday night to do even more than Ann Romney. From a GOP perspective, he is the one who has to keep the base fired up with hard-edged conservatism even as he persuades independents and disillusioned Democrats that they can be comfortable with him as the ideological leader of a Romney presidency.

Ann Romney: Talking to you from my heart
Analysis: Ann Romney, Christie speeches

That won't be an easy rope to tread, but Ryan has managed it well. The Romney campaign was drifting badly when Ryan came aboard and has since righted itself. It is true, as analysts like Ezra Klein have written, that Ryan hasn't provided a big lift in national polls, but he has brought a new vitality -- not only to the party (just wait for the hall to erupt Wednesday night when he is introduced) but to Romney himself. And he has put not only Wisconsin in play but possibly more of the upper Midwest.

Meanwhile, the downsides that Republican strategists worried so much about when he was named haven't materialized. Democratic attacks on his Medicare ideas, for example, don't seem to be cutting much (perhaps the Democratic convention will change that?). And for some, Ryan's youthful good looks add a little sex appeal.

But on Wednesday, he will be on the biggest stage in his life. Those in the hall will want red meat, far more than they got from Chris Christie on Tuesday night, but many in his television audience will be deciding whether they want him at the center of national power -- and only a heartbeat from the presidency. A difficult assignment. This will be the second most important speech of the convention.

An election between two transitional candidates?

There has been an unmistakable air in Tampa that even as they work for victory, leading Republicans are looking over Romney's shoulder, asking who will be out front if he loses. Christie's much-anticipated speech Tuesday night has drawn scorn because he seemed to be auditioning for himself for 2016. He wasn't giving a keynote, the joke goes, but an acceptance. Rick Santorum's speech, while better, was also less about Romney than his own views. And of course, tensions are running high between Ron Paul and his followers vs. the Romney team.

All of this is now coalescing into a narrative on full display in an insightful piece by Jonathan Martin in Politico. Martin writes that supporters of up-and-coming 40-somethings -- from Ryan to Marco Rubio to Ted Cruz -- increasingly see themselves as the true heirs of an upbeat, Reagan-style conservatism and that Romney, at 65, is a more of a placeholder, win or lose.

That mood could change over the next two days -- Romney has a self-interest in changing it -- but if it holds, it will add a new dimension to the 2012 election. As he bids for a second term, Barack Obama faces the prospect that if even if he wins, as a lame duck president, power will begin to seep away a couple of years from now. That goes with the territory.

So, in a fundamental way, history may one day record that an Obama-Romney race was actually a contest between two transitional figures.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Gergen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT