All the enthusiasm was for Fred Thompson. Probably a quarter of the delegates were walking around with Thompson stickers. The news stories and the videos only partly capture the energy in the room for him. While his speech was a little bit of a let down on content the positioning was fantastic. I was struck by the "you" language that was coming out him. "I’m here to thank you", "I’m here to help you." It was clear that Thompson is trying to channel the party base and the conservative movement. And it is clear that the party base, at least at the Young Republican convention, wanted it.
In general, Thompson’s strategy seems right now to be the empty vessel. To connect with the party faithful . It felt like he was "one of us." He wasn’t pushing issues or policy positions. In the very brief interview with me and Liz Mair, he again spoke in principles, not specifics. But they were principles that we could rally around.
By contrast, I didn’t feel a lot of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney. He had a booth outside the convention room, but there were many more Rudy Giuliani stickers than Mitt Romney stickers. (I should note that Massachusetts had a 2 person delegation and New York had a 4 person delegation. By contrast California had 50+) And I still don’t know who was passing out the Giuliani stickers. I didn’t detect much enthusiasm during the speech from actual Young Republicans, although some of the good lines got standing ovations. (as opposed to the Thompson speech, during which the entire room was on their feet almost the whole time) And there wasn’t nearly the same mob effect.
I was again struck that I like some of what Romney says but I just don’t trust him. He is substantially right about the challenges that the country faces, although I would shade the Asia issue differently. And, as one Muslim delegate noted, Romney’s mischaracterizations of Islam are pretty shocking.
In addition, the shady activities involving the straw poll really angered a lot of people.