What You Missed While Not Watching the First Night of the Republican Convention

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his wife, Ann Romney and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice listen as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers the keynote address during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 28, 2012.

7:14 p.m. The hurricane couldn’t stop it. The weak economy didn’t underfund it. The orange-bottomed girls at the Hooters down the street won’t distract from it. Day One of the 2012 Republican National Convention has arrived, with House Speaker John Boehner walking onstage to fire the prime-time starting gun. “We begin tonight with a fundamental question: Can we do better?” he calls out. Crickets from the crowd. They aren’t really paying attention yet. Still shuffling to their seats. But Boehner looks good up there, his tanned skin neatly matching the stained wood of the stage.
7:16 p.m. Boehner’s speech is a bunch of guy-walks-into-a-bar jokes. It’s a bit convoluted. Stay with us. Boehner is the bar owner. Barack Obama is the guy. The President tells the bar room things about his economic plan, health care reform and, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build it.” After each utterance, Boehner says, “You know what we would do with him, don’t you? We’d throw him out.” Some in the crowd are following along.

7:20 p.m. Boehner is still talking when a woman’s voice comes through the speakers. “Testing one-two-three. Testing one-two-three. Can you hear me?” Boehner is a total pro. Doesn’t even flinch.

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7:21 p.m. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus appears to the music of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” a song that presumably meant something different to the singer, Freddy Mercury. Priebus’ voice is going hoarse, as if he has been smoking cigarettes packs at a time backstage with Boehner. He nonetheless strings together a chain of insult tweets directed at the Democrats. He ribs Joe Biden for “pulling his foot out of his mouth.” He knocks the “Obama apologists in the mainstream media.” He says, “Barack Obama has a problem with the American Dream.”

7:31 p.m. The next act is Neal Boyd, the 2008 winner of America’s Got Talent. He sits on a stool and sings Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” People stand. Hands go into the air. Everyone sings the chorus together. As he reaches the chorus for the last time — “I gladly stand up next to you, and defend her still today” — Boyd stands from his stool. Everyone is going crazy. Boyd rocks. America does have talent. The crowd is awake.

7:38 p.m. Thus begins the potpourri section of the program. Utah congressional candidate Mia Love, a rare black Republican, says, “This is the America we love because we built it. Janine Turner, who played the love interest on Northern Exposure, talks about the Constitution and patriotism. Country crooner Lane Turner sings a song called “I Built It.” A candidate from Delaware talks about her small business. Vocal group the Oak Ridge Boys talk about “an element that exists that is trying to push God further and further out of our lives” and then sing “Amazing Grace.”

8:07 p.m. All that was just introduction. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, from Washington State, appears to say, “Tonight we are going to do things a little differently.” In politics, this means that nothing unexpected will happen.

8:12 p.m. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte drops a few more “You didn’t build it” beats. Also, Obama is bad for small business, she says, because he “has never even run a lemonade stand.” She is followed by a small-business owner without a jacket or tie. “Help us elect Mitt Lomley as the next President of the United States,” he shouts. Oh well.

8:24 p.m. Ohio Governor John Kasich’s moment to shine. He opens with a Black Eyed Peas joke that no one gets, then talks for five minutes about how great Ohio’s economy is. This is awkward because Romney’s campaign spent most of the year talking about how awful the economy has been under Obama.

8:34 p.m. The lights come down for a video montage about — wait for it — Obama’s “You didn’t build it” line. A business owner from Ohio says he’s “ticked off.”

8:35 p.m. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin gives a history lesson about her state disguised as a convention speech. The state was settled during the land run of 1889, she says. Its first oil well was called the Nellie Johnstone. A wildcat well that produces 75 barrels of oil an hour is known as a “gusher.” Vote Mitt Romney.

8:43 p.m. Another “You didn’t build it” video.

8:45 p.m. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell: His hair is perfectly parted, his tie is shiny aquamarine, his speech is utterly forgettable. “We need President Romney,” he says. The crowd claps politely.

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8:56 p.m. More “You didn’t build it” video.

8:58 p.m. Wisconsin Governor (and recall-election survivor) Scott Walker comes out onstage to the loudest applause of the night so far. All business, he launches into his speech, which no one can hear because everyone’s still clapping. He brags about Wisconsin’s economy and praises Romney for picking Paul Ryan as his running mate. “With this pick, he showed us that the R next to his name doesn’t just stand for Republican, it stands for reformer,” he says.

9:04 p.m. Country singer Lane Turner is back, singing about the Constitution and small business. The song is called “Blood, Sweat and Freedom.” Only two more hours to go.

9:06 p.m. Nevada’s Brian Sandoval talks about how he became governor. He can’t brag about the economy in his state because it has the highest unemployment rate in the country.

9:17 p.m. A new, selectively edited Obama-clip montage. This one suggests that Obama called unemployed Americans “a bump in the road,” which he didn’t.

9:19 p.m. It’s Rick Santorum, who ran against Romney in the primary. He’s back in the swing of things, talking about how people probably won’t be poor if they get married and how he came from a family of self-reliant immigrants. “In 1923 there were no government benefits for immigrants except one: freedom,” he says. Then things begin to get weird. He talks about hands. “I shook the hand of the American Dream, and it had a strong grip,” he says of his presidential run. Dreams don’t have hands, but it’s already too late. He talks about hands that “work in restaurants and hotels, in hospitals, banks and grocery stores,” hands “looking for the dignity of a good job.” All this weaves directly into a touching discussion of his disabled daughter, Bella. Then another pivot. “A vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will put our country back in the hands of leaders who understand what America can and, for the sake of our children, must be to keep the dream alive,” he says.

9:34 p.m. The lectern magically disappears, swallowed by the floor of the stage. Ted Cruz, the Republican Senate candidate from Texas, appears to praise the Tea Party, without saying the words Tea Party. “We are seeing something extraordinary,” he says. “Something that has dumbfounded the chattering class.” He paces the stage like a motivational speaker. He’s a talented guy. He runs through the history of freedom, says it’s a love story, and then praises his immigrant father, who escaped Cuba, in Spanish. “When he came to America el no tenía nada, pero tenía corazon,” he says. The speech ends with an appropriation of Obama’s old slogans, including a call-and-response “Yes, we can” chant. “It’s tragic how far we have come from hope and change,” he says. The crowd loves him.

9:46 p.m. The ghost of Zell Miller takes the stage. Artur Davis, a former Democratic Congressman who praised Obama at the 2008 convention and ran for governor of Alabama using the Obama playbook, has come to tear apart what he once claimed to believe. “The last time I spoke at a convention, it turned out I was in the wrong place,” he says, a laugh line that gets the awkwardness out of the way. The party faithful love converts.

9:55 p.m. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley comes out to talk about all the good things that her state tried to do that Obama sought to ruin, including a law allowing police to ask for immigration papers of anyone they suspect to be undocumented, a law requiring voters to present government identification to vote and an effort by Boeing to build its new jets in a nonunion factory. The union-bashing and voter-ID stuff goes down particularly well.

10:07 p.m. Lucé Vela Gutierrez, the First Lady of Puerto Rico, checks two boxes: she’s a woman and she’s Hispanic. Which happen to be the two reasons she was chosen to introduce Ann Romney, the woman the crowd has been waiting for.

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10:11 p.m. Romney appears onstage in a red A-line dress. She waves to the crowd, which is dotted with hand-painted “We love you, Ann” signs that were probably made by overworked interns. “This is going to be so exciting!” she says, and immediately veers off script with an ad-libbed tribute to the Gulf Coast communities in the path of Hurricane Isaac. Then: “Tonight, I want to talk to you about love.” Hers and Mitt’s, that is.

10:14 p.m. She first fell for him because he was tall. “I love you, women!” she cries out in a singsong voice. Then a long riff intended to scuff up a sparkling life: their parents’ humble origins, the basement apartment where she and Mitt ate pasta and tuna fish on a fold-down ironing board in the kitchen. Message: the Romneys feel your pain. She invokes the metaphorical collective sigh of the American family, weary from balancing work and family and “the price at the pump you just can’t believe.” That last one may be a stretch for someone who is worth a few hundred million dollars.

10:23 p.m. But Romney is winning them now, regaling the crowd with tales of her wonderful husband. “I’m still in love with that boy I met at a high school dance, and he still makes me laugh,” she says. She mentions her struggles with breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. “A storybook marriage? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.” There’s a standing ovation, louder this time. She tells them “no one will work harder. No one will care more. No one will move heaven and earth like Mitt Romney to make this country a better place to live.” She’s rolling now. “This man will not fail,” she says.

10:32 p.m. Having humanized her husband, Romney returns to the political sell, trying to hoist Mitt into plausible President territory. “You can trust Mitt,” she says. “Give him that chance. Give America that chance.” And with that, Mitt Romney walks onstage to “My Girl.” It’s the first genuine goose-bump moment of the convention. But the Romneys offer only a brief wave before wandering offstage, or trying to. They are confused about how to leave. They eventually find their way.

10:30 p.m. The Chris Christie trailer starts to play, like a movie trailer, except the star doesn’t look like the ones in Hollywood. “This is who I am,” Christie says. And then he appears onstage, clapping hard, like his hands have been bad and must be punished.

10:35 p.m. He opens with an ahistorical joke. “A New Jersey Republican delivering the keynote address!” he says, as if this is surprising. But Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, gave the convention keynote in 2008. Then it’s on to Christie’s speech about himself, his family and his accomplishments as governor. Romney has taken his place in a box overlooking the stage but is suddenly absent from the program. It’s all about Christie. “Tonight we are going to choose respect over love,” Christie says, just minutes after Ann Romney said she was going to talk about love.

10:46 p.m. Christie is feeling brave. “I know this simple truth. And I am not afraid to say it,” he says. “Our ideas are right for America, and their ideas have failed America.” He’s taking a risk. The crowd may not leave if he keeps talking like this. He goes on to talk about why teachers’ unions are bad. Living dangerously.

10:52 p.m. Christie finally mentions Romney.

10:55 p.m. Christie says, “You see, Mr. President, real leaders don’t follow polls. Real leaders change polls.” This may be an acknowledgement that the GOP platform does not poll that well. But let’s not overthink this. It’s late.

10:58 p.m. Christie decides to do some calisthenics. “It’s now time to stand up,” he says. Everyone does, including the Romneys in their box. Christie means it metaphorically too, as in, support Romney.

11 p.m. Christie finishes in time for the networks to cut to local news. The band 3 Doors Down take the stage with a new song that sounds like every other 3 Doors Down song. The Romney family exits.

11:03 p.m. Priebus is back. He introduces the benediction. Calls are made for contributions to the Red Cross. But no one is watching anymore. The cable channels have moved on. The crowd is streaming out of the hall. The first night of the 2012 Republican National Convention has come to an end.

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