Such was the prominence given to black speakers and entertainers at the 2000 GOP convention that a BBC colleague, who had opened most of his news reports that week with pictures of soul and R&B bands performing on stage, thought it necessary to advise viewers not to adjust their sets: 'Yes, this is the Republican convention.' There were times last week in Tampa when the continuous news channels that gave it gavel-to-gavel coverage might have felt prompted to provide the same gentle reminder.
Certainly, the convention looked more like the old GOP than the new. This was very much an establishment show, lacking much of the insurgent, grass roots fervour that has come to define the Republican Party since it gathered last in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 2008. It was not quite the party of Lincoln, but nor was it the party of Limbaugh.
The Tea Party was in evidence on the mosh pit-like floor of the convention. But, for the most part, the cameras focused on the heavily sequestered stage. There, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin were denied speaking slots. In their place stood disciplined moderates like Condoleezza Rice and John McCain, who were handed prime-time platforms.
It showed that one of the world's more effective political machines – since 1952, the GOP was won 9 presidential elections compared to the Democratic Party's six – can still put on a scripted show. During the primaries, when Republican voters turned from one 'anyone but Mitt' candidate to another, prompting over-excited talk of a disputed convention, this was by no means inevitable.
My overall sense was that the GOP convention would have helped humanise Mitt Romney and also gone some way towards detoxifying the party's image.
Ann Romney (pictured) proved herself a useful guarantor of her husband's personality, especially to sceptical female voters. She also came across as a highly plausible FLOTUS, even if she failed to come up with a ripping anecdote that unlocked her husband's opaque personality.
A doe-eyed Paul Ryan, by downplaying his controversial Medicare plans, showed that he is willing to play the role of the disciplined vice-presidential candidate rather than freelancing as a young buck House insurrectionary (tellingly, the focus after his speech was on its errors and distortions rather than his Ayn Rand-inspired ideology).
In a better-than-expected acceptance speech, Mitt Romney tried to cast his Mormonism as being part of the religious mainstream and also went some way towards reclaiming his business career at Bain. It was also smart to aim his speech at voters who are disappointed with President Obama rather than those who are enraged (or deranged). Though short on detail, the speech focused on his economic ambitions for the nation rather than the party's social agenda — creationism centred on jobs rather than Genesis. It also included his best zinger of the campaign so far, one which crystalised the sharp difference in their campaigning styles: 'President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans. And to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.'
There were some ugly moments, not least when a couple of delegates revealed their Jurassic side by throwing peanuts at a black CNN camerawoman. 'This is how we feed animals', was reportedly their racist taunt. The Republican platform also contains an uncompromising anti-abortion plank, banning the procedure even in cases of rape and incest, which many independent-minded voters especially would consider extreme.
In the main, however, most of the messages delivered from the stage were aimed at the lounge rooms of America rather than the convention hall. They were intended as vote-winning rather than rabble-rousing.
Here, the response has so far been disappointing for the Republicans. The polls suggest that the convention produced either a negligible bounce for Romney, or no bounce at all. Surprisingly incautious, Romney advisers had predicted as much as an 11 point gain, even though the average bounce is between 5 and 6 points. According to Gallup, 38% considered Romney's acceptance speech 'excellent or good', but that was the poorest rating of any of the eight acceptance speeches Gallup has measured since Bob Dole, another lackluster candidate, delivered his convention address in 1996.
Given the potential for infighting and incendiary rhetoric, perhaps a benign convention is not such a bad outcome. Those three days in Tampa might not have fired up the electorate, but the polls could have been considerably worse had it showcased fired-up Republican insurgents who now make up the party's rank and file.
Photo by Flickr user NewsHour.