By the time Iowa Senator Joni Ernst finally took the stage at the RNC convention last night, the crowd in the arena was smaller than what she would typically find at a Montgomery County chili dinner. Ernst began her speech around 11:10 PM Eastern, missing out on the primetime spot she was supposed to have. It may have been for the best, however, as she proceeded to give a so-so speech that failed to capitalize on the former combat veteran’s personal appeal.
The lead-up to her big moment must have been excruciating for Ernst. Melania Trump was moved up on the schedule to ensure she appeared in the best primetime block with the most TV watchers. Then former general Michael Flynn – also a rumored vice president option – gave an incredibly long, painfully awkward and repetitive speech. The crowd had already started to stream out of the arena at this point, and Flynn tried to get “USA!” chants going at multiple stages.
Time ticked on… and on… and on.
When Flynn finally finished, the vast majority of the crowd had left. The major stations had cut away from live coverage to their nightly newscasts, robbing Ernst of her chance to address a national audience. Reporters tweeted out that RNC staffers and delegates were dismayed that the awful scheduling changes had pushed the woman who was supposed to be the party’s rising star after the poorly-performing general who had no future with Republicans at all.
When she took the podium, she gave a shout out to the “millions of my fellow Americans watching around the country.” She was lucky if there was still 100,000 watching. It was sad.
— Jessica Taylor (@JessicaTaylor) July 19, 2016
Because of the meager crowd, it’s hard to tell whether parts of her speech really fell flat, or whether it was because there wasn’t many enthusiastic people left to clap. That certainly hurt her delivery when certain applause lines were met with near-silence. But when watching back through her performance, the actual text left something to be desired.
“I never imagined a farm girl like me from Montgomery County would have the opportunity to serve as the first woman elected to federal office from Iowa,” Ernst opened with, a nice reference to her humble roots. “Growing up we didn’t have much, but what we didn’t have in money, my parents, particularly my mother, made up with in tenacity.”
Ernst said that her mother encouraged her to work through difficult times with a can-do attitude, comparing that to the military’s work ethic. That’s nice, but it essentially boiled her upbringing down to a very generic message of “hard work.” Perhaps she was concerned about the reaction her “bread bags” line got from her State of the Union response, but she still could have added some early life experiences.
She did give one story about studying abroad in the Ukraine, where locals asked her what it was like to live in “beautiful freedom.” That, she said, inspired her to join the army, but then spent little time describing that experience.
“For 14 months I served as company commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom, where my unit was tasked with running convoys through Kuwait and Southern Iraq,” Ernst said, then mentioned she retired last year, moving on from that section of the speech.
After blasting America’s lack of leadership, Ernst let loose a barrage of garden variety anti-Clinton and anti-Obama talking points.
“Hillary Clinton cannot be trusted!” Ernst declared, making good on her promise to come out swinging at the RNC. “Her judgement and character are not suited to be sitting in the most powerful office in the world. She has already failed us too many times before. Hillary Clinton has failed to stop the expansion of terrorism!”
The problem with a speech almost entirely focused on attacking Clinton is that it’s what the delegates had heard all day. By the time she talked about naming “radical Islamic terrorism,” the crowd had already clapped at that over 15 times already. The whole address seemed to be geared for a very forceful attack on the Democratic nominee given during primetime TV, but without a full hall much of it fell flat. Her final lines, seemingly meant to build to a crescendo, went nowhere.
It also lacked much of a vision or compelling narrative. Pretty much anyone could have given this speech. Ernst failed to weave in her personal story or professional experience to tie to the Clinton criticisms. And if this was meant in any way to let a national audience know more about who Ernst herself is, helpful for the next time she’s considered for vice president, it was a total failure.
The young Senator from Iowa still has a long and promising future in the Republican Party, but her mediocre-at-best speech last night could stall her rising star. A major missed opportunity.
by Pat Rynard