On the RNC Convention floor last night, I corralled some notable Wisconsinites for their reactions. (I'll have my reaction in a wrap-up column tomorrow.)
While Tommy Thompson praised Sarah Palin's 2008 acceptance speech, he called Ryan’s speech much more “meaty” and “substantive” than Palin’s. “When he talked about his father, when he talked about his mother, talked about his children, it was all moving. But everything about that speech was tied together so well. It was electrifying, because it captured the mood of this convention, and more importantly, it capture the mood of the country, and it set he and Mitt Romney up as the problem solvers and not the finger pointers. After you heard that speech tonight, I don’t see how anyone can't say ‘this guy is from Janesville Wisconsin and he knows the country.”
Wisconsin First Lady Tonette Walker said Ryan's speech should help quiet the charge that the GOP is waging a "war on women:" “Him looking into the camera and telling us that Medicare is going to be there for me, and for my children, it makes you feel like, ‘yeah, maybe we can have this fiscal reform, plus have everything else we need.'”
Finally, State Senator Alberta Darling: “He had the vision, the confidence, and the leadership that I think people are just craving right now.” The most special part of the speech for Darling was when Ryan got emotional talking about his mother. “The message part about what he is going to do is one thing, but the emotional part about his mother to me told me a lot about Paul Ryan."
The heat and humidity are still oppressive here in Tampa, but once the Republican National Convention began, the news turned to Wisconsin. It doesn’t matter who you talk to here, once you say you’re from the state of Ryan, Walker, and Priebus, you get a raised eyebrow and an “OOOOOOHHHH,” as if you’ve just returned from fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. True to the song, in Tampa, when you say “Wisconsin,” you really have said it all.
In Wisconsin, we all knew that Scott Walker’s battle with the public sector unions and his subsequent recall election victory were newsworthy nationwide. But from the eye of the hurricane, it was difficult to ascertain just how pervasive the news was at the time. Judging from the reaction of people in Tampa, news of Wisconsin’s travails saturated the nation. It appears that in order to learn more about Wisconsin, it helps to travel to Florida.
Nowhere was this phenomenon more visible than when Walker took to the convention floor late in the afternoon to deliver Wisconsin’s delegates to Mitt Romney. Walker received an extended standing ovation from the thousands packed into their seats in the rafters of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. In his brief statement, Walker bragged that Wisconsin is the home to the reigning NFL MVP (Aaron Rodgers), the Major League MVP (actually, just the National League – Ryan Braun), Miss America (Laura Kaeppeler) and Paul Ryan. Milwaukee’s own American Idol, Danny Gokey, is even slated to perform at the convention, which should thrill fans of both country music and fans of finishing third in things.
As the delegates were being released on the floor, Ron Paul demonstrators barked into megaphones outside the perimeter. There are fans of Ron Paul, and there are fans of Ron Paul intent on making conventioneers miserable as they walk the streets of Tampa. As a friend of mine noted, some people aren’t interested in politics, they just want to burn the world down.
The protesters are primarily being kept at bay by an army – literally – of soldiers. The inner perimeter of the convention area somewhat resembles Gotham after Bane took it over. Entering the convention hall last night, it appears we passed an entire brigade of uniformed U.S. servicemen and women. If Democrats knew how much of a military presence there was here, they would immediately demand that the U.S. withdraw from the Republican National Convention.
Of course, the real action happened later in the evening, when Walker took to the stage to address the delegates. With Monday’s schedule canceled due to concern over Hurricane Isaac, Walker’s speech was cut from eight to six minutes to accommodate the condensed schedule. When Walker took the stage at around 9:00, conventioneers stood and once again gave him a rousing ovation. Conscious of his short time allotment, Walker began his speech over the deafening clapping – but they kept going on. Undaunted, Walker forged on, hoping the crowd would quiet down so he could keep his speech on time. Eventually, they did.
His speech touched on many of the themes he discussed with me on Monday – in some cases, he used the same phrasing he did with me. (Watch Walker's speech here.)
Walker was followed by Texas U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz, who eschewed the podium and wandered the stage while speaking. I was certain his speech was going to end with me buying a time share.
The nationally televised portion of the program included speeches by potential first lady Ann Romney, who offered a soft portrait of her husband. Naturally, the professional grievance industry found parts of her speech with which to feign offense; when she claimed she and Mitt had a “real marriage,” gay activists took that as a shot at same sex marriage. It appeared clear that she was saying she had a “real marriage” as opposed to a political marriage of convenience – one focused on love and hard work.
Ann Romney’s speech about love was followed, somewhat awkwardly, by New Jersey Chris Christie’s speech about how the campaign isn’t about love, but hard realities. (Before Monday, the two speeches were supposed to be on different nights, which may explain the crossed messages.) For the political dorks who read and write about politicians, it’s hard to tell exactly how speeches play outside a convention hall. It seems that in order to understand Chris Christie’s gravitas, one has to have a working knowledge of his freewheeling, humorous style – little of which was on display Tuesday night. Christie spent a good deal of time explaining how blunt he often is, but little time actually being blunt.
Of course, Wednesday’s speech by Paul Ryan is the most anticipated address among the Wisconsin delegation. One poll actually showed that more people nationally want to see Ryan speak than even Mitt Romney.
This is a dramatic change from the RNC in 2008, where Ryan followed the Wisconsin delegation around Minneapolis-St. Paul with very little fanfare. He was just “Paul the Friendly Congressman,” wandering around and occasionally talking to delegates who recognized him. One night following the floor proceedings, I recall Ryan sitting on the shuttle bus by himself, just staring out the window for the entirety of the 20-minute ride back to the hotel. Perhaps he was picturing himself one day standing at the same podium Sarah Palin had just occupied in the same way little kids picture themselves playing left field for the Brewers when Ryan Braun finally retires.
I sat down with Governor Scott Walker yesterday and he laid out the blueprint of his speech before the Republican Convention in Tampa tonight:
“You’ve got six or seven minutes, so it’s hard to say much… we’re going to talk a little bit about Wisconsin, because people would be let down if we didn’t – but more so what the choice was that we had in Wisconsin. Do we define success as how many people are dependent on the government, or do we define it as the opposite – as how many people are not dependent because they control their own destiny in the private sector – and relate that to this debate nationally.
What we went through in many ways is a microcosm of what we’re going to face in the presidential and vice presidential election. I’m going to personalize it a little bit with an example, not just a small business owner but one of the employees. And then we’re going to make the case more than anything that what this all boils down to is courage. We saw it in spring and into June, and now it’s our chance to stand up, and have the courage not just to elect the right people, but by electing Romney and Ryan, putting people in place who have the courage to act.”
The good news for conventioneers here at the RNC in Tampa is that Hurricane Isaac is about as accurate as I am with a nine iron. While sporadically dropping some rain on the Tampa area, the hurricane missed completely.
But Isaac’s close proximity is the cause of the bad news: it is as hot and humid as I’ve ever been in my life. If rain translates to 100% humidity, then it is perpetually at 99.9% humidity here. Male conventioneers, forced to walk almost a mile through four security checkpoints, routinely sweat right through their blazers. Women who wear their cutest little dresses and doll themselves up with their best makeup just melt in the heat, as if they were Barbie dolls resting too close to a fire. By the end of the convention, the Tampa Bay Times Forum will smell like the couch cushions at my fraternity house – reeking of sweaty feet.
The convention hall itself, normally home to the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, is tucked back within four blocks of heavy security. Much of the convention grounds look like Beirut – armed soldiers patrol every inch, and iron and barbed wire keep danger out. Helicopters buzz about overhead and conventioneers are made to present their credentials no fewer than five times as they snake through the fenced off maze to the Forum.
The Wisconsin delegation is stationed at the Hyatt Regency, which in only about a block from the first checkpoint. This is one of the spoils when the RNC chair is from your home state. Ditto for the delegation’s seating on the convention floor, where Wisconsinites will greet Governor Scott Walker, RNC chair Reince Priebus and Congressman Paul Ryan from seats so close, they could probably give speeches themselves. In an interview later, I asked Walker if he planned to do a Lambeau leap off the stage into the delegation after his speech on Tuesday night. “It would be fun, but I'd probably break my leg," he chuckled.
The convention floor itself is a dreamlike sensory deprivation chamber – meant to make delegates forget about anything outside the walls. Giant walls of light glow behind the podium – banners rise high above the floor – a giant scoreboard ticks off the growing national debt. ($15.9 trillion as of 1:18 PM on Monday afternoon.) For Republicans, it is a womb of safety, as they can be proud of their conservatism without any Occupiers yelling at them. There’s no news on anywhere, so it’s hard to tell who President Obama has accused Mitt Romney of murdering today without checking Twitter.
Even though the threat of a hurricane canceled today’s official proceedings, delegates still roamed the floor, taking in the enormity of the Forum. Some got to shake the occasional cable television celebrity’s hand. (Joe Scarborough seemed to be especially popular.) Others struck funny poses near the stage, presumably for unseen cameramen. At least I hope someone was taking pictures of them – otherwise they had likely ingested handfuls of barbituates.
In the afternoon, I was scheduled to interview Walker in his hotel room, so I navigated the maze in reverse to get off the convention campus. When I got to the hotel, though, I realized I was completely drenched with sweat (and happened to walk by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefish, who looked at me as if I had just been swimming in the hotel fountain in my clothes.) I realized I couldn’t interview Walker looking like I had just run a marathon, so I ducked into a friend’s hotel room, took all my clothes off, and ironed them until they were dry. I thought this was ingenious, and just prayed Walker didn’t notice I probably smelled like dry roasted sheepdog.
Last night, many of the delegates were treated to a concert by country troubadour Trace Atkins at Tropicana Field, home of baseball’s (formerly Devil) Rays. With no official convention proceedings on Monday night, delegates will need to go make their own trouble. Ironically, the theme for Monday was supposed to be “We Can Do Better.” On Tuesday, they will try.
While Paul Ryan will play a major role at the GOP convention in Tampa as the party's vice presidential candidate, this isn't the first time he's spoken at the convention. Here's Ryan on September 1, 2004, echoing many of the same sentiments we'll hear from him on Wednesday night:
For the past two years, Wisconsin has been at the forefront of national news. From Governor Scott Walker’s battle with public employee unions to the choice of Congressman Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate, the Dairy State continues to set the example for the rest of America.
Nowhere will this be more evident than at the Republican National Convention next week in Tampa, Florida, where numerous Wisconsin political figures will bring stories of the state’s successes to a national audience.
WPRI senior fellow Christian Schneider will be there to cover the week’s events, with interviews, reports from the Wisconsin delegation, and accounts from the convention floor. Schneider, who covered the 2008 RNC, will be blogging at a special section of the WPRI blog dedicated exclusively to convention coverage.
Coverage will begin on Thursday, August 23 all the way through to the final nomination speeches on Thursday, August 30th. Check back here for updates.