He was most effective in the first assignment. Where vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan had adopted a prosecutorial approach, Romney spoke more in apparent sorrow than with venom about the Obama presidency and its failure to deliver, as Romney put it, "what Americans deserved."
"I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed," Romney said. "But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. This isn't something we have to accept." He appealed to voters who had been inspired but then disappointed by Obama's "hope and change" message. "Tonight I'd ask a simple question," Romney said. "If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn't you feel that way now that he's President Obama?"
Faced with poll numbers that rate him far below the incumbent on "likability," Romney sought to portray himself as a caring and giving family man, church member and neighbor, not as the wooden or remote financier depicted in negative advertising.
He made a particular pitch to women voters, invoking his mother's comments, as she made an unsuccessful run for the Senate, "Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?" The strongest testimony, though, came earlier in the evening, from fellow Mormon congregants who described Romney's help for their families, one with a terminally ill child, another with a daughter born months prematurely. While Romney extensively described his work as a businessman, he made scant mention of his term as Massachusetts's governor beyond noting the number of women in his administration.
To our mind, the third and most important plank of his argument also proved the least persuasive. We support the more vigorous trade policy he advocated and the notion of giving parents more choice in their children's schooling. His advocacy of a foreign policy that champions the ideal of freedom is welcome.
But Romney mostly repeated his five rather vague priorities for fixing the economy, adding little meat to the gauziness of past declarations. There was nostalgia for an earlier era of greater American confidence, without much detail about how to achieve a restoration. Promising to begin his presidency "with a jobs tour" and jabbing, inaccurately, at Obama for starting his with an "apology tour" is not a substitute for a serious policy.
Romney presented himself more as an empathetic manager than an ideological visionary. He mocked Obama's grand claims with a direct and appealing promise "to help you and your family." But this was not a speech in which he demonstrated how he would do so.
His argument against Obama was stronger than his pitch for himself.