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posted: 8/31/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: The GOP's task: assurance amid Americans' discontent

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

While a more hurricane-proof New Orleans braced for the week's weather test, the Republican Party has fortified itself against the storm of the next 67 days. Will it be enough to win the presidency? Should it be?

With the 2012 convention behind them, Republicans are energized and may savor a bump in the polls that typically follows these events. But dust will settle over the glow as reports about the painfully slow economic recovery continue. The bad news for America remains perhaps, in its own twisted way, the most golden opportunity for the GOP and its presidential nominee to keep the public's attention that it seized over the past week.

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The convention planners had two goals to meet this week: to tell the Mitt Romney story and, as GOP leader Reince Priebus put it, to "prosecute the president."

The latter came easily. Speakers lined up to attack President Obama's policies that they contend have led to government overreach and a soaring federal debt. His job creation efforts have stalled, and his health care law will bankrupt the nation, they said.

The reality, of course, isn't so cut-and-dried, and a few who spoke acknowledged the irony that the economic crisis was created in part by their own party. Vice presidential pick Paul Ryan's stirring but assailable Wednesday keynote -- which was long on pledges, short on details and loose with facts -- demonstrated some of the concerns that remain about the outlook presented by the GOP, and the torrent of rebuke from critics that followed should give the top ticket pause about how far to take its claims.

Still, Republican leaders capitalized on the disillusionment of dreams not realized four years since Obama took office, and the new sense of realism and repair they urged has an appealing ring. With enthusiasm, speakers courted the blocs that traditionally look to the left. Women in all situations are loved and valued, Ann Romney said in her upbeat and touching speech. Hispanics were given prominent speaking roles. Race and religion don't matter, was the message from many. The big tent endures.

Perhaps.

The full depth of that unity remains a question, and many wavering independents will wonder whether longtime differences can be repaired, and those are among the issues they will long to see clarified as the campaign unfolds.

The convention left supporters with no doubt that government must downsize -- and quickly. But when people are hurting so badly, it's impossible to win an election on ideology alone, and for months supporters and the news media have craved specifics on a Romney plan to fix the economy.

In his speech Thursday night, Romney did present a checklist for creating jobs that will frame that plan, but again the specifics were lacking. However, the nominee got more serious about telling his own story and worked hard to show America his softer side -- something also largely absent from the campaign thus far.

Early in the week, Sen. Mark Kirk said in a video shown to Illinois delegates, "This has got to be one of the most important elections that we've ever had." That rings true for the GOP in both national and state races. Indeed, the presidential campaign's focus on the economy only emphasizes the failures that have led to Illinois' abysmal financial state.

In short, Democrats at all levels are burdened by the reality that change is harder to achieve than believe in, and they have the chance next week to lay out their case for continuing their leadership of the nation. Meanwhile, the Republicans' case for ending it is now clearly defined and well established. Their job now is to use the weeks ahead to demonstrate that they have the compassion, vision and leadership to close the gap between what is hoped for and what can be achieved.

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