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Romney's missed opportunity to lead

On Tuesday night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) delivered the Republican National Committee's keynote address, and assured the audience, "Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear" -- a phrase Christie used three times. A day later, Paul Ryan vowed, "We will not duck the tough issues."

By last night, those promises seemed more like wishful thinking than campaign promises. Mitt Romney had a unique opportunity to step up, "tell us the hard truths," and take on "the tough issues," but in his formal introduction to the nation as his party's presidential nominee, Romney preferred to play it safe, delivering a generic, vague, and unambitious speech.

Going into last night, the former governor had a fairly straightforward task. In effect, his goal was to tell voters, "I'm Mitt Romney, and if you elect me, here's what I'll do."

The first part was easy. Romney talked about himself, and adequately demonstrated that he is not, in fact, an animatronic figure from Disney World. But the second part required effort and a little courage, and by the time the balloons were popped in Tampa, no one had any better idea what Romney would do in office than they did 24 hours ago.

Obviously, in a convention speech, I don't expect a candidate to bring out charts and start quoting GAO reports, but those who expect to be president in five months have a responsibility to present some ideas about what they intend to do with this enormous power.

And last night, I kept waiting for something, anything, that resembled substance, but it never came. About the closest thing Romney came to a meaningful policy idea was his stated goal of using public funds to subsidize private school tuition. That's a horrible idea, but I'll concede it at least counts as an idea.

But when it came to public policy, that was about it. Once again, the Romney campaign message boiled down to: President Obama hasn't done enough; I'll do more; just trust me.

Romney intends to cut taxes, and we're supposed to trust him that he'll figure out how to pay for it. Romney intends to destroy the newly-improved health care system, and we're supposed to trust him that he'll figure out what to replace it with. Romney intends to create millions of jobs, and supposed to trust him that he'll figure out a plan to make that happen.

He could tell us more, but he doesn't want to, and this isn't supposed to alarming.

Watching the speech, I got the sense that Romney had made a careful calculation: if he attacks President Obama enough, and sticks to generic Republican platitudes, it might be just enough to eke out a narrow victory. If he asks voters to just trust him, without a coherent rationale or any kind of substance, maybe a narrow majority will.

But therein lies the rub: Romney hasn't given Americans any reason to trust him. The problem isn't just the frequent falsehoods -- and I'll detail last night's whoppers in more detail a little later today -- but also the fact that the Republican is asking the country to take a leap of faith based on nothing. He won't give us details, he won't give us policies, he won't give us specifics, but he'll go back to Bush-era policies and voters should simply assume they'll work this time.

The point of an "I accept your nomination" convention speech is to tell the nation what kind of president you'll be. Romney failed last night because he lost sight of this simple goal.