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Mitt Romney Accomplished Some of His Goals, But Not All

Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans ticked every box on their national convention to-do list except one: explaining clearly how the country gets from here to prosperity.

Romney delivered the best speech of his presidential campaign by far, but devoted just five paragraphs to his domestic agenda, falling far short of detailing how he’ll fulfill his promise to create 12 million new jobs in four years.

He had other things to do in the speech, to be sure, and he did them. Job one was to make himself more likable. He’s consistently trailed President Barack Obama in favorability – by 5 points in the latest Gallup poll, 9 in the AP-GfK poll.

In the Washington Post-ABC News pre-convention poll, 64 percent of respondents said Obama was “friendly and likable” compared with 25 percent for Romney. Gallup had the margin at 54 percent to 31 percent.

The massive attention paid to this problem in Tampa, Fla., must have produced some improvement. Romney clearly is a devoted, unconditionally loving family man, a hard worker, a church leader and a sincere patriot, though it remains unclear why he makes his wonderful wife, Ann, laugh.

Does he care about ordinary people and their problems? In the Gallup poll, on this score, Obama outstripped Romney 52 percent to 36 percent. On understanding peoples’ economic problems, the Post poll showed Obama ahead 49 percent to 37 percent.

So, in his acceptance speech, he generalized that “this Obama economy has crushed the middle class.” But besides reciting the grim statistics on unemployment and poverty, he empathized with the worker who “lost that job that paid $22.50 an hour with benefits” and had to take “two jobs at nine bucks and fewer benefits” and the homeowner whose house is under water.

Showing a kinder, gentler side, he even said that the one in six citizens living in poverty “are not strangers. These are our brothers and sisters, our fellow Americans.”

(It certainly will come up at the Democratic convention, though, that the budget backed by Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) will cut Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Plan and other programs for the poor.)

The polls show that Romney is running far behind Obama with Latinos and women. So he was introduced by a Spanish-speaker, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.).

Women were given a bevy of prime-time speaking slots and Romney went out of his way to note that his mother was a feminist and that half of his cabinet when he was governor of Massachusetts was made up of women.

The GOP ticket trails badly, too, with young voters. So one of the best lines of the convention was delivered by Ryan: “College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get on with life.”

For independents fed up with the vituperation of this presidential campaign, Romney couched his heavy criticism of Obama – which occupied probably half of his speech – as “disappointment,” not anger or contempt.

“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed,” he said. “But his promises gave way to disappointment and division.”

“The president hasn’t disappointed because he wanted to. The president has disappointed America because he hasn’t led America in the right direction,” Romney said.

The centerpiece of his case against Obama was to link himself to President Ronald Reagan and Obama to President Jimmy Carter with the familiar question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

In the AP poll, only 28 percent of respondents said that they were, and Romney cited another survey showing that more than half of Americans think their children will not live a better life than theirs.

Insofar as jobs and the economy are the No. 1 issue in this election, the Republicans dwelled heavily on Romney’s experience as a business leader – and Obama’s lack of it.

Romney observed that Obama “took office without the basic qualification that most Americans have and one that was essential to his task. He had almost no experience working in a business. Jobs to him are about government.”

It was a good thrust. And Romney made sure not just to defend his own record of business success at Bain Capital from the attacks its taken from Obama, but to charge that Obama, in attacking business success, doesn’t understand the whole free enterprise system.

The Republicans understandably also spent extensive energy countering Obama’s charges that Ryan and Romney will “destroy Medicare as we know it,” the Democrats’ effort to cut the GOP lead with seniors.

The GOP seems to have had success – and deservedly – since Ryan has proposed (with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon) giving future seniors a choice of coverage under traditional government-run Medicare (which is going broke) or a private insurance plan.

The GOP convention certainly appears to have solidified the party behind Romney – especially because the choice of Ryan was pleasing to conservatives.

And Romney even summoned what might be called a vision, which many said he lacked: “A united America” that “can unleash an economy that will put Americans back to work, that will once again lead the world with innovation and productivity and that will restore every father and mother’s confidence that their children’s future is brighter even than the past.”

The problem is the here-to-there. Romney enunciated a five-point plan: full exploitation of U.S. fossil fuel resources, school choice as a vehicle for skills-development, a combination of free and fair trade, deficit reduction and a small business agenda consisting of lower taxes, fewer regulations and repealing and replacing Obama’s health reform plan.

No one expects an acceptance speech to go into detail like a State of the Union address, but Republicans need to explain how conservative economic policy leads to general prosperity.

In the Washington Post poll, 56 percent of respondents said they favor smaller government that provides fewer services. Just 38 percent want a larger government. And they resoundingly (73 percent) identify Obama as a large-government man.

But the poll also showed that, by 52 percent to 33 percent, voters prefer government spending on infrastructure to create jobs, as opposed to cutting taxes.

By 56 percent to 34 percent, they think that unfairness in the economic system favoring the rich is a bigger problem than over-regulation. And 60 percent think Romney favors the rich and Obama, the middle class.

Clearly, there was a need for Republicans to show that their policies don’t just amount to “trickle down economics” and will reverse the decades-long trend that the rich are getting richer and everyone else is stagnating.

They didn’t. Romney & Co. merely asserted again and again that everyone can make it in America if they try. They didn’t even re-quote John F. Kennedy’s line, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Moreover, except on the deficit front, Romney’s economic plan closely resembles President George W. Bush’s – which, Democrats endlessly assert, led to the mess we’re in.

Indeed, the Washington Post poll showed that 54 percent of respondents hold Bush responsible for the economy and only 32 percent blame Obama.

No doubt, small business is a key engine of job creation in America, but there is also a need for public investment – in infrastructure, research and education – which was never mentioned at the GOP convention.

It may be that a five-paragraph summary, plus Romney’s business record, plus heavy rhetoric about the virtues of free enterprise, plus all the Tampa box-checking will give the GOP ticket a momentary lift. But I’d bet it won’t last through the coming week in Charlotte, N.C.

The prospect is for more weeks of a dead heat, at least into the debate season.