Ann Romney and Chris Christie

A read on the first night of the convention:

They lit the candle. They got past the ill luck of the storm and declared there’s a convention going on.

Ann Romney was stunning, sweet, full of enthusiasm, a little shy, a little game for the battle. Her speech was fine. I think the headline was that she and Mitt got married young, lived in modest circumstances and struggled a bit while he studied and tried to get a foothold in business. But it was scattered, full of declarations — “Tonight I want to talk to you about love” — that weren’t built upon but abandoned. Strong as the impression of personal beauty is, I think she missed an opportunity.

Here’s how I see it. I have just spent the past two and a half days talking to people who’ve known Mitt Romney well for ten, twenty and thirty years, even more. They love him, and in all their conversations they say either literally or between the lines, “If only you knew him like I do.” It is their mantra. They mean it, and they are so frustrated. They believe he is a person of unique and natural integrity, a kind man who will give you not only his money but his time, his energy. They see him as a leader. They know the public doesn’t see this. They don’t understand why. And, actually, I don’t blame them, because it really is a bit of a mystery. If he’s so good why can’t his goodness be communicated?

The opportunity Ann Romney missed was to provide first person testimony that is new, that hasn’t been spoken, that hasn’t been in the books and the magazine articles. She failed to make it new and so she failed to make it real.

I’m not sure her speech was a loss but it doesn’t feel like a gain. We’ll see. The real reaction to a highly publicized speech emerges not overnight on twitter but over days and weeks as people chat in the office and on the sidewalk in front of school. So we’ll see what they say, we’ll see how it bubbles up.

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Chris Christie’s speech was big. It was hopeful. It said the American people can turn their country around, that they actually want candidates who speak the truth, that they will follow difficult prescriptions if they seem grounded in reality. Christie always reminds me a little of Jackie Gleason — “To the moon, Alice!” But he is one shrewd political mind, and he actually thinks about the meaning of things. He played the common man Tuesday night but he was high minded, and he beautifully skewered the hypocrites and reactionaries in the teachers’ unions, who have made it so clear to so many the past decade that really, they are all about pensions and bennies, not about students, and if you don’t like the longterm cost of the deals they make with pols you can just avoid the property taxes by selling your house and going to rent somewhere. They don’t care where because there will be a teacher’s union there, too.

So look, all of this was good, and right, and big. But.

Chris Christie is a politician and there’s nothing in it for him, as a New Jersey Republican, as a guy trying to survive and prosper in a Democratic state, in really bringing it to President Obama. He stuck to thoughts on governance. This was worthy.

But you know, this is how the Republican base feels: No one classy and admired like Chris Christie has ever taken it to Obama and been as tough a partisan as, say, Joe Biden, or as amusing and pointed as — well, actually, I can’t think at the moment of a truly pointed and funny Democrat, but whoever that person is would be is the person I mean.

Republicans aren’t really hungry for red meat, that’s not what this is about. They’re hungry for someone who is an elected official at a high level, and who is admired, to push back, to have fun, to stir the blood, to make the case, to get the troops going again.

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.