NOW with Alex Wagner | August 29, 2012
>>> let's turn now to the republican national convention . on the first night of romney -palooza, republicans looked to present a unified coherent vision. instead, echoing the fractures that exist within the party, the central messages outlined by their two headliners were in direct conflict with one another.
>> i want to talk to you tonight about that one great thing that unites us, that one great thing that brings us our greatest joy when times are good and the deepest solace in our dark hours. tonight, i want to talk to you about love.
>> see, i believe we have become paralyzed, paralyzed by our desire to be loved. tonight, we are going to do what my mother taught me. tonight, we're going to choose respect over love.
>> while it seemed ann romney 's assignment was to humanize her husband, she seemed better at defining him as anything but human. a mechanical, unflinching workhorse.
>> -- work harder. no one will care more and no one will move heaven and earth like mitt romney to make this country a better place to live. this man will not fail.
>> it was a sentiment echoed in the pages of the " washington post " today. quote, mitt romney 's most impressive and consistently manifest attribute is his inhuman work ethic . governor chris christie , meanwhile, spent more of his time on the stump, stumping for himself in 2016 . romney 's name first came up 1700 words into christie 's 2600 word speech. instead of a rabble-rousing speech to lift up the nominee, christie 's speech was a barn burner about his own achievements in new jersey, and christie 's criticism of partisan politics may have been better directed to his own party in congress.
>> we believe that if we tell the people the truth, that they will act bigger than the pettiness we see in washington, d.c. we believe it's possible to forge bipartisan compromise.
>> his attacks on the president's health care system sounded more like criticism of his own party's stance on abortion.
>> mitt romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the debacle of putting the world's greatest health care system in the hands of federal bureaucrats and putting those bureaucrats between an american citizen and her doctor.
>> while chris christie challenged americans to hard work and sacrifice, perhaps the biggest failure of the night was one of inspiration. peggy noonan wrote in the " wall street journal " this morning i want to tell you they marched out of the hall tuesday night on fire for their side, but i was there and they did not. they walked out like people who weren't quite sure what to think or how to feel but were hoping for the best, because they love their country a lot. joining us now from tampa is casey hunt of the associated press, also in tampa , msnbc contributor, sam stein of the hu huffington post . i want to start, sam , with you. to sort of bring us up to the present moment , we are seeing the dreaded dual screen here which is hurricane isaac slamming into the gulf coast and republicans in tampa trying to celebrate the nomination of mitt romney . do you think that this is an issue for the rnc, should they be more aggressive in dealing with the fact that there is a natural disaster on their hands?
>> i mean, obviously it's a delicate situation and clearly, you know, news media, the convention goers, the republican party itself has been monitoring what's going on. they're trying to balance it by having speakers get up there, acknowledge what's going on, say a moment of silence for people in harm's way, but the show does in some respects have to go on. this is part of the platform to launch mitt romney as a candidate for the presidency and they have to introduce him to the public at large. so yes, it's very difficult, very delicate. i think a lot of it, they're just trying to wing because they don't know what's going on, much like we in the media don't know what's going on. it's creating awkward optics, especially if you are watching it on tv.
>> as we hope people are. casey , i want to talk to you about the score card from last night because it's been a very mixed bag in terms of reactions and grades. i think generally speaking, most people thought that ann romney and chris christie did a good job of selling themselves to the american public, but the jury is still out on whether mitt romney is going to get any bounce from this, whether mitt romney comes out looking any better than he did the day before yesterday. your assessment?
>> well, you know, they were really counting on ann's speech to help humanize him and to make that argument for a group of particularly swing voters who are just turning into the selection. ann romney has been working as somebody to humanize her husband for a long time. she's been on the campaign trail quite a bit. folks who were in the hall came away really impressed with how she did with her speech. the crowd was clearly engaged. the line you played about how she said he will not fail drew a standing ovation, the crowd was very excited about that. the transition from ann into chris christie 's speech was more than a little jarring. it was pretty immediate. of course, you have to remember that the two weren't initially scheduled to speak on the same night so if they did have die vergent messages, some of it was by virtue of the fact isaac forced them to push this convention off by a day.
>> hugo, watching those speeches last night, i guess a lot of folks were looking to ann romney to reveal something we didn't know about mitt romney and i want to play this little piece of sound, then read some of peggy noonan 's reaction to it. this is ann romney last night talking about her husband, mitt.
>> he was nice to my parents but he was also really glad when they aren't around. i don't mind that, but more than anything, he made me laugh. some of you might not know this, but i am the granddaughter of a welsh coal miner. he was determined, he was determined that his kids get out of the mines.
>> there you have this kind of windup, mitt romney made me laugh, full stop, pump the brakes, also did you know that i'm the granddaughter of the coal miners . noonan writes the opportunity ann romney missed was to provide first person testimony that it's new that hasn't been spoken, that hasn't been in the books and the magazine articles. she failed to make it new so she failed to make it real. what do you make of that?
>> i agree. i give her a lot of props for -- it wasn't a boring speech and i think the part that was most interesting to me was when she was sort of talking about his sort of noblesse oblige, his good deeds and the fact he didn't seek kind of publicity or status from them. i thought that was interesting. it sort of started to veer towards something that was a little less well-known, a little less in all the accounts. at the same time, i think it's true that like the humanizing mitt effort is failing. if his own wife can't do it, i guess they just should give up, start dehumanizing mitt and see if that works.
>> i think if folks are cherry picking their favorite lines of the night, the part about him, no one will work harder and the workhorse thing, maybe that is the key. maybe it's not about the warm and fuzzy, funny mitt romney --
>> i will say this, i don't think that that provides a good contrast with the president. i don't think anybody thinks --
>> barack obama .
>> that barack obama is not a hard worker. that is definitely not one of his issues.
>> the other problem is you can't talk about what his work is. she never said bain capital . no one ever said bain capital all night. this is a guy who made his fortune and his political reputation on this one company and they can't say the name of the company because it's so reviled. when you read our cover story today and you really get into what that company did and how they did it, and the debt that they piled on other companies, that was the fascinating thing matt gets into. here's a guy who's running against debt but he's one of the greatest debt creators of all time. he would take on debt, saddle other people with the debt and walk away with a lot of money. so you can talk about his work, but then you need to say well, what did he do.
>> no one will work harder at creating debt than mitt romney . casey , i was struck by this, and i think i called -- i deem it flintstonian, this kind of attitude we saw on display throughout the speeches, the gender politics on stage last night. there was some choice -- the way ann romney categorized or characterized her relationship to mitt romney and then tried to sort of expand that and say hey, girls, we're all in this club. i want to play this sound and i want to get your reaction to this.
>> if you listen carefully, you'll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. it's how it is, isn't it. it's the moms who have always had twoso work a little harder to make everything right. it's the moms of this nation, single, married, widowed, who really hold this country together. we're the mothers. we're the wives. we're the grandmothers. we're the big sisters . we're the little sisters and we are the daughters. i love you women ! and i hear your voices.
>> that's actually not really the clip that i wanted to play, but throughout the evening, she kept sort of going -- there is this recurring theme that women sigh louder, women understand they have the heavier load to bear and that we're all in this together, women , aren't we? and i guess part of me thought that was an antiquated way of characterizing women 's roles in the 21st century , that somehow we need to be sidelined because we're the ones that make the sandwiches and change the diapers. this is part of ann romney 's appeal to women in america but it seems really strategically aimed at married, nonworking women .
>> exactly. her pitch was very specifically looking at not necessarily married, she does not single, widowed, but people who are raising families. if you think about the people that they need to appeal to, what they're looking to do in the fall, they're looking for suburban women outside places like philadelphia, if they're to have the hope of winning in some of these swing states . so she clearly brings that message. you didn't see her touch very much on working women , although she did mention that very often, women who go into the workplace have to fight a little bit harder to earn the same respect as men. so there was a little bit of nod to those folks but on the whole, it was focused towards people who have similar -- she touched a lot on her own background as somebody who raised five boys and that's what she spent her life focused on.
>> can i make a point here?
>> yes, sam , get in there.
>> i just think it's a little unfair to ann romney to put all these burdens on her. what she was asked to do last night is humanize someone who has been in the public spotlight for almost a decade, maybe more, and who has failed to humanize himself. what she was asked to do is connect romney to women voters even though his policies are what's causing the disconnect. so the romney campaign placed a lot of the burden on ann romney to go out there and hit a home run and fix these problems that they've created for the candidate himself, and she did a very good job. she tried her best. but there are some deficiencies she just can't get past and it will take more than a clever line or a moment where she says i love women to fix these things. there are fundamental issues that are unfixable.
>> but sam , i think the issue isn't just making an argument, it's telling the story, something that isn't known already. i think that's where she really failed. it's not about trying to explain a certain policy.
>> no, but i'm not -- that's my point. a story can only mask certain things. at the end of the day , people look at the policy prescriptions and make judgments primarily on that. we get obsessed with story lines and presentations but at the end of the day you have to imagine this a lot of voters will look and say i don't like what he's doing with respect to women 's health, with respect to contraception, and that's why they will vote against romney , not because ann romney said he's great for women , he understands my plight, my issues. that's not why they'll vote for him.
>> i mean, i think we can't underestimate the power of narrative. certainly if there was a compelling narrative about mitt romney 's humanity and big heart, that might counter some of the more draconan policies he wrapped his arms around. we have to go to break.