7 p.m. Beneath clusters of celebratory balloons, the second night of the Republican National Convention begins with a color guard of military amputees who are wearing shorts to show off their mechanical legs. It’s a discordantly solemn note for an event that is basically one part circus and two parts C-SPAN with a dash of street preaching. But it’s moving nonetheless.
7:08 p.m. Solemnity ends. Things get weird fast, with a video tribute to Ron Paul, the only Republican presidential candidate who has refused to endorse Mitt Romney. But the Establishment is going all in. Even Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who led the effort to defeat Paul’s son in his Senate primary, appears onscreen to praise the insurgent libertarian who would legalize marijuana. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint says, “When I first got to the House, I thought Ron Paul was nuts.” Progress.
7:12 p.m. The Paul tribute is followed by McConnell, who turns in a speech composed of recycled clichés: “Help is on the way … the man for this moment . . . we get back up and try again … America cannot afford … it’s a choice about who we are … a country that is ready for a comeback.” He delivers the lines like a drowsy undertaker, and at some point even the clichés get confusing. “To call this a recovery is an insult to recoveries,” he says.
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7:21 p.m. Jack Blades, a singer from the Damn Yankees who once played with Ted Nugent, gamely tries to rock the house. Who is he kidding? As he struts the stage, screaming and stretching and lifting his leg, the delegates simply stand there, bemused under their hats, as if queuing for a toilet.
7:28 p.m. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, the son of Ron, enters to power chords from the Canadian band Rush to praise a series of small-business men and women from South Asia. At one point he tells a story in which someone says, “Hello American sailor, hello freedom man.” Then he talks about a “lump between chin and belly button” and says it is wrong to “punish Mr. Exxon Mobil.” It’s as weird as it sounds. He endorses Romney for President and sideswipes former President George W. Bush. “We must never trade our liberty for any fleeting promise of security,” he says.
7:46 p.m. This segues into a video interview of the two former Presidents Bush. They talk about how the Oval Office needs to be treated with respect, without mentioning Monica Lewinsky by name. “There was never any kind of scandal around the presidency. I think we forget the importance of that,” says father Bush about his son’s term in office. They endorse Romney, prompting a country crooner to sing a song about blessings and the daughter of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to appear onstage with a paralympian who speaks about the need for a strong national defense.
8 p.m. It’s a blast from the past. “I had hopes, once, of addressing you under different circumstances,” Arizona Senator John McCain admits. It’s his birthday. Half the room is milling around, backs turned, applauding politely. Even the Romney interns hoisting “Happy birthday” signs look bored.
8:13 p.m. McCain is mercifully interrupted. Outside in the mezzanine hallway, Ron Paul loyalists are stirring up trouble. The Maine delegation is chanting, “As goes Maine, so goes the nation.” This is not true, but Paul supporters have a legitimate beef. Earlier in the year, Romney’s team displaced some Paul delegates. The crowd doesn’t seem irked by the intrusion.
8:15 p.m. McCain shuffles off as video footage shows Romney at the Western Wall. The Paul protesters are chanting louder now, partially drowning out the sound. So G.E. Smith, the house-band guitarist known for his years on Saturday Night Live, cranks up a long instrumental riff while security quashes the disturbance.
8:25 p.m. Occasional M.C. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers arrives to announce the evening’s theme: “We can change it.” Yes, we can. Then two attorneys general, Pam Bondi of Florida and Sam Olens of Georgia, remind us why the networks ignore the undercards. They tag-team what could be a speech to the Federalist Society. As Olens drones on, Bondi starts edging closer and closer to the lectern, glowering at him until he cedes the microphone.
8:35 p.m. John Thune, who rivals Romney as a central-casting President, starts with a joke. Thune is a basketball player who’s never scored an invitation to ball with the President. But Obama would be easy to defend. Why? “Because you know he’s always going to go to his left.” He beams a movie-star smile. Bill Pullman couldn’t do it better.
8:44 p.m. It’s interview-with-a-delegate time. An Indian engineer from Wisconsin who arrived in the U.S. with “a few dollars in my pocket and a dream in my heart” delivers a testimonial to the promise of America that could have come from a Romney stump speech. He’s got a huge, heart-warming smile. This is a great addition to the program. Let’s do more of these.
8:50 p.m. Another delegate interview with a mom from Michigan. “First, let me say that Obama did not build my business,” she begins. Then she pauses to peer down at her script. “But he is doing everything he can to tear it down.” She looks like she’s recording a hostage video.
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8:52 p.m. Another 10-minute instrumental number from G.E. Smith. He’s earning his keep tonight.
9 p.m. Ohio Senator Rob Portman is up. He looks like a cross between Ron Howard and Steve Martin, but he’s not funny. “They say I was on Governor Romney’s short list of vice-presidential candidates. Apparently it wasn’t short enough,” he says, pausing for a laugh. None comes, so Portman begins steamrolling Obama’s economic policy. “We can’t afford four more years,” Portman says. “How about no more years?” The crowd is getting into it. Chants of “No more years” break out on the floor.
9:12 p.m. House majority leader Eric Cantor comes out to Starship’s “We Built This City.” Except it’s not actually Cantor, but rather a small-business owner who looks just like him. This guy doesn’t like Obama either.
9:15 p.m. The camera cuts to the middle of the crowd, where a woman introduces the next speaker, Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño. His is the American Dream: he governs a territory that pays no federal income tax. The gist of the speech is that Big Government is bad and everyone likes freedom. “We share the same undying spirit that all Americans have,” he says. “We will never give up.” Like all good speakers, he starts a chant.
9:24 p.m. A Christian rock band called the Katinas asks the crowd to “clap your hands this evening, come on y’all.” No one claps their hands, but a few delegates begin to sway.
9:27 p.m. A brief but stirring montage of Romney, Ronald Reagan and cornfields flashes across the screen. Real ‘merica.
9:28 p.m. It’s time for Tim Pawlenty, whom both McCain and Romney nearly picked to be their running mate, to appear. Pawlenty has appointed himself Secretary of One-Liners as a consolation prize. “Welcome to Barack Obama’s retirement party,” he begins. Rookie mistake: he opened with his best line and has nowhere to go. Obama is “the first President to create more excuses than jobs,” Pawlenty says. And, “Barack Obama is the tattoo President” because he seems cool when you’re young and you regret him when you’re old. And, “The President takes more vacations than the guy on the bizarre-food show.” It’s awful stuff, but the crowd eats it up. You know. Like the guy on the bizarre-food show.
9:38 p.m. Mike Huckabee, the Republican Party’s nice-guy Baptist preacher, opens with a petty joke about the sound of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s voice. He mentions Bono and “good old Uncle Sugar,” whoever that is. But then Huckabee gets serious and gives Romney a gift: the evangelical endorsement. “I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church,” Huckabee says, “than I do about where he takes this country.”
9:54 p.m. The crowd welcomes former George W. Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with a standing ovation. She doesn’t disappoint. Without the aid of a teleprompter, Rice delivers the serious party vision no other speaker has offered. Her points are nuanced, and she barely glances down at her notes. She hits on education, immigration and terrorism. She never mentions Obama by name, but her critique of the President’s foreign policy is sharp. “Where does America stand?” she says. “You see, when friends or foes alike don’t know the answer to that question unambiguously and clearly, the world is likely to be a more dangerous and chaotic place.” The convention hall is in awe.
10:14 p.m. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has a tough act to follow, but she finds her footing. “En America, todo es posible,” she tells the party with a platform that calls for English as an official language and “unifying force.” But she has a wonderful story, from border-town child to state prosecutor to governor. “Little girls, they often come up to me in the grocery and the mall. They look and they point,” she says. “They need to know: no more barriers.”
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10:25 p.m. Time for the main event. Vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan comes out like a conquering hero, but the first line on the teleprompter reads like it’s missing a word: “I am honored by the support of this convention for the Vice President of the United States.” He powers through, sips water and begins to lay out his case: “Right now, 23 million men and women are struggling to find work. Twenty-three million people, unemployed or underemployed. Nearly 1 in 6 Americans is in poverty. Millions of young Americans have graduated from college during the Obama presidency, ready to use their gifts and get moving in life. Half of them can’t find the work they studied for, or any work at all. So here’s the question: Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?”
10:38 p.m. Ryan plays fast and loose. “The biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly,” he says. “They just took it all away from Medicare — $716 billion funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.” Ryan makes no mention of the fact that his own budget supported those cuts. Instead, he says, “The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it.”
10:41 p.m. In another nice thesis statement for the campaign, Ryan riffs on Obama’s time in office: “It began with a financial crisis. It ends with a job crisis. It began with a housing crisis they alone didn’t cause. It ends with a housing crisis they didn’t correct. It began with a perfect triple-A credit rating for the United States. It ends with a downgraded America.”
10:50 p.m. Ryan promises that Romney will create 12 million jobs over the next four years and keep federal spending under 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product. Then he conjures another nice image: “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.”
10:56 p.m. Ryan mocks Romney’s music choices, saying his iPod sounds like “many hotel elevators.” This is humanizing. Then Ryan brags about his own iPod playlist, which “starts with AC/DC and ends with Zeppelin.” That is VH1.
11:03 p.m. Ryan soars out of the speech by declaring, “Whatever your political party, let’s come together for the sake of the country.” His family appears onstage, and the kids are adorable, ages 7, 8 and 9. They rush to hug him. Can’t beat that. Nothing ever does. The whole family waves to the crowd, which is wild with joy. The second night is done.
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