The future of the Republican Party was on display in Tampa, Fla., as the roll of speakers before Mitt Romney provided a preview of nomination battles in 2016 and beyond.
Let's just say it: Paul Ryan hit it out of the park, delivering at long last what so many in the base have been hungering for: He didn't just attack -- he vivisected the Obama administration.
"I have never seen opponents so silent about their record, and so desperate to keep their power," Ryan said. "They've run out of ideas. Their moment came and went."
Red meat is the traditional veep specialty, but Ryan's attack was so rooted in undeniable big truths, it never came off as personal.
"The first troubling sign came with the stimulus. It was President Obama's first and best shot at fixing the economy, at a time when he got everything he wanted under one-party rule. It cost $831 billion -- the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government.
"It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs and make-believe markets. ... What did the taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus? More debt. That money wasn't just spent and wasted -- it was borrowed, spent and wasted."
He went on:
"College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life. ... None of us have to settle for the best this administration offers -- a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us."
Ryan's political future is now tied to Mitt Romney's success, that's the downside of being veep nominee.
Rick Santorum, who may be back in 2016 or 2020, delivered a rich, moving speech that showed why social and economic conservatism are not disjointed fragments cobbled together by electoral expediency, but together form a coherent governing philosophy, including this on marriage:
"Marriage is disappearing in places where dependency is the highest. Most single mothers do heroic work and an amazing job raising their children. But if America is going to succeed, we must stop the assault on marriage and the family in America today."
He, too, is an intellectual leader to watch for in the future.
But the biggest disappointment so far was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Christie's speech was exceptionally self-involved, bragging not only about his record but his bluster, and his mom.
"My mom, she was tough as nails and didn't suffer fools at all -- and truth was, she couldn't afford to. She spoke the truth, bluntly directly and without much varnish. I am her son."
Truth-telling as a brand has its limitations, especially when the truths close to Christie's heart are so gloomy.
"Paralyzed by our desire to be loved," he said, too many politicians think it's "more important to be popular, to say and do what's easy and say 'yes' rather than to say 'no' when 'no' is what is required."
We all have to share the sacrifice, he lectured. And on Medicare, he claimed Granny is willing.
"Seniors are not selfish. They believe seniors will always put themselves ahead of their grandchildren. So they prey on their vulnerabilities and scare them with misinformation for the cynical purpose of winning the next election."
Ann Romney that Tuesday night may have wanted to talk about love, but Christie was having none of it: "Tonight, we choose respect over love."
I don't think that's the speech of a winning presidential candidate. Not while women have the vote, anyway.
The breakout speaker of this convention may well have been the mayor of tiny Saratoga Springs, Utah -- ironically, a woman named Mia Love. She is a black Mormon convert, an articulate and attractive woman's voice for our shared American story:
"Our story has been told for over 200 years, with small steps and giant leaps, from a woman on the bus to a man with a dream, from the bravery of the greatest generation to the innovators and entrepreneurs of today," she said. "This is our story, this is our America, this is the America we know because we built it."
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