As hurricane Isaac came roaring in, many predicted the natural disaster would overshadow the Republican National Convention. It seemed so primed to do so that Rush Limbaugh called reports of its approach a conspiracy by the Left. Fortunately Isaac both moved away from the convention and did less damage than expected, leaving Governor Mitt Romney fully in the spotlight only to be overshadowed by an empty chair.
The arguably hilarious, arguably tragic, and undeniably bizarre speech given by Clint Eastwood - who many conservatives lambasted after his "halftime in America" Chrysler commercial projected a positive economic forecast for America - is unlikely to have a major political influence down the line. However, that it near-entirely overshadowed the later acceptance speech by Gov. Romney - which was the whole point of the convention - was a poor sign for the campaigns of both Romney and every downticket Republican incumbent and challenger. Yes, some of the coverage of Eastwood over Romney is due to the fact that America's left would greatly prefer a discussion of the former over one of the latter. Eastwood's speech, while hailed by many conservatives, is unlikely to garner independent support. Among liberals it encourages the view of a disorganized and undisciplined republican party prone to gaffes most recently exemplified by Todd Akin - Eastwood presents to the left a "Republican Biden" for a week. But even among Republicans discussion about Romney's speech, and the convention as a whole, seems far from flowing. That speaks to the failure of the convention to have the same effect it did in 2008, when Republicans came out of the RNC with a "bump" giving McCain a hopeful but short-lived. advantage agaimst Obama.
Why is this? One good reason is political polarization. Americans in 2008, while not by any means undivided or unpartisan, were less polarized in their beliefs. That always offers more potential for a bump to occur - especially since those watching the conventions are liekly to be the most politically engaged and thus the most likely to vote later how they planned to vote earlier. One reason that only the most dedicated of the parties have been closely watching the conventions is moderates becoming far more cynical about politics, despite the irony that this election has actually been far less negative than 2008 - espedially factoring in the vicious Obama-Clinton primary which gave us the "3 AM Phone Call" and the rumor of Obama's birth in Kenya.
Another major fault with the 2012 RNC compared to 2008: No Palin. While Palin's effectiveness in the election overall is debatable at best, her effectiveness at first was spectacular. The RNC in 2008 rode the Palin wave, and in 2012 there was no similar source of energy. Ryan has not excited the far-right base as clearly as I believe Governor Romney anticipates, and Gov. Christie's ability to do so was not used to promote Romney so much as to promote Christie himself in 2016, when 8 years of an Obama presidency will act as an easy target, the democratic challenger will lack the incumbent advantage, and the governor will hopefully have had the chance to lose a few pounds to improve his image. Romney's speech was mostly a standard stump speech avoiding any policy plans to the greatest extent possible, and it's hard to excite people on a plan for which they lack the details. The only thing truly driving the party has been an opposition to the policies of President Obama, which the convention did not boost in any major way. The convention couldn’t have effectively driven up Republican support because the only people watching were already going to vote for Romney, and the only force driving the party is going to feature at the DNC instead.
That DNC is going to have the advantage here because the democratic force driving victory is more balanced between a support for President Obama and an opposition to Governor Romney. Both of these factors can be better energized at the DNC – President Obama can use any chance he has to validate his first four years as effective, and more ammunition to use against Governor Romney. That’s not to say that the Governor has necessarily made more attackable mistakes than Obama, but that Obama had an entire Presidency, after an entire Presidential campaign, to have every single negative point aired and brought into full discussion such that the most the right is currently capable of is echoing existing points – the only new attacks they have come from whatever Obama does on the campaign trail, such as his stating that small business owners didn’t build the infrastructure used by their business. On the other hand Romney has only really had national prominence for a couple of months, not counting his failure to achieve the nomination in 2008 – that represents only a couple of months of fact-digging and only a couple of months of exposure. There’s far more for democrats to work with at the DNC against Romney, and far more for them to defend with Obama – I’d expect the DNC to create a bump the RNC was incapable of generating. The question is if that bump will stay long enough to give Obama a narrow advantage instead of a dead heat.