COMMENTARY | Two Massachusetts governors gave their finest speeches ever at exactly the time they needed to: their party’s convention. The actions of actors in each situation threaten the expected post-convention bounce for Mitt Romney in 2012 as they did for Michael Dukakis in 1988.
Back in 1988, Democrats were in a good mood. Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis prevailed in a bruising primary, but began the healing process. He selected a well-respected politician, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, as his running mate. Even though Vice President George H. W. Bush had secured his win a long time ago, the Iran-Contra scandal was very much on people’s minds.
Dukakis was able to open up a six-point lead going into the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. With a great speech, he ballooned that lead to 17 points to 54 percent as the faithful were roused to action.
But then came word that Hollywood actor Rob Lowe, a Democratic Party delegate, made a sex tape with an underage girl. The scandal engulfed all of the attention Dukakis would have otherwise received. The Dukakis lead shrank back to eight points before the GOP Convention in New Orleans, and he wound up losing by eight points. Neither Lowe nor Dukakis’ careers were quite the same afterwards.
Clint Eastwood now seems poised to be the latest Hollywood actor to burst a Massachusetts’ governor’s post-convention bounce. Romney gave a great speech, but all of the Internet chatter seems to be about what Eastwood said and did. From the goofy empty chair to the acerbic language, to the throat slashing, to saying we don’t need an attorney in the White House (even though Romney went to Harvard Law School), it was hard to say what was the worst part.
The Tampa delegates en masse seemed to sense something was wrong with the unscripted implosion of an actor more eager to get people to see him play a cranky baseball scout than to make Mitt Romney look good. Sure enough, Gallup found that while Romney was leading by a point going into his convention was down a point by Friday. That’s obviously within the margin of error, but I’m sure Romney was hoping for a little more than “-2.”
Of course, Eastwood didn’t do anything with an underage girl. But Mitt and Ann Romney’s obvious delight with Eastwood’s mean speech could be just as bad, obscuring their heartwarming stories of family and love. The result could be the same as Dukakis experienced on Election Day.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.