It’s not exactly good cop/bad cop, but the main speakers tonight at the Republican National Convention will play diametrically opposed roles.
Ann Romney — the wife of Mitt Romney, who becomes the official GOP nominee with Tuesday’s delegate roll call — will try to present her husband in the most flattering, personal light. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the convention’s keynote speaker, by contrast will have the job of attacking President Obama’s record.
It’s Political Marketing 101, says GOP Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas, a member of the outsized Republican Class of 2010.
“Telling people more about yourself and distinguishing yourself from your opponent, they’re both essential parts of communicating with voters,” Griffin says.
Ann Romney has occasionally come across as feisty or combative in interviews and stump appearances this year, but she is expected to play more of a traditional “first lady” role in her convention address. One of the major goals for Republicans this week is to present their nominee as likable and relatable, and the candidate’s wife may be in a unique position to offer a flattering portrait of “Mitt the man.”
“It is a cliche, isn’t it, that the wife of the candidate humanizes the candidate,” says Katherine Jellison, an Ohio University historian. “That may be a particularly important role this time around because of the stereotypic image of Mitt Romney, that he’s stiff and doesn’t come across as terribly warm.”
Ann Romney, who has battled multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, has been something of a folk hero in Republican circles since being criticized in April by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, who said the candidate’s wife had “never worked a day in her life.” Rosen apologized, but the comment was seen as demeaning to homemakers.
“Her main task is to go out and be likable and make the viewer think, ‘Wow, if this nice, down to earth, pleasant woman has been married to this guy for 40 years, he must be OK,’ ” Jellison says.
Christie, by contrast, is not known for being pleasant. He was elected governor of New Jersey in 2009, attracting national attention as part of the vanguard of aggressive Republican opposition to Democratic policies — an early part of the wave that may have crested the following year with the election of Griffin and 86 other House Republican freshmen.
Christie is known for verbally taking on opponents and succeeding in promoting his own agenda in a state long dominated by Democrats. Christie has challenged public-sector unions and forced their members to pay more toward their own pensions, helping to curb the influence of a once-dominant lobby and balance the budget without raising taxes.
He’s also cut funding for Planned Parenthood and women’s health, notes John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, putting an end to a longstanding consensus on such issues in the state.
“He’s made a huge change in New Jersey government and done things that were inconceivable four years ago,” Weingart says.
Christie is an effective speaker, not because of any poetic turns of phrase, but because he projects a clarity and no-nonsense air that is appealing even to those who may disagree with his policies or not like politicians in general, Weingart says.
Christie will serve as a true keynoter, with his combination of blunt talk and policy aggression providing a model for the type of criticism about President Obama that many other Republican speakers will also engage in this week — notably in areas such as job creation and the size of the federal debt.
“Christie will signal the Republican attack from here on in,” says Thomas Whalen, a social science professor at Boston University. “He’s going to lay some punches on the Obama team.”
He’ll be joined on the podium Tuesday by several fellow governors, including Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of New Mexico.
Nearly all of them will have stories to share about businesses that were built by close associates or family members, Russ Schriefer, a Romney campaign strategist, said Monday in a conference call with reporters.
Those will amplify the day’s official theme, “We Built It,” which is a dig at Obama for recent remarks that Republicans have interpreted to mean entrepreneurs didn’t achieve their success on their own. (Obama noted that business owners had help from government investment in areas such as infrastructure.)
Mitt Romney’s erstwhile rival Rick Santorum also will speak tonight and is expected to echo recent Romney complaints that Obama has weakened welfare law changes that encourage aid recipients to return to work. As a Pennsylvania senator, Santorum was a sponsor of the 1996 welfare law.
In short, although Ann Romney will likely present an endearing portrait of the GOP nominee, his other surrogates will pursue a much tougher line of attack.
“My whole deal is reforming, changing, shaking up Washington,” says Griffin, the Arkansas representative. “It sure needs it.”