While Republicans set the stage Wednesday for Mitt Romney to accept the presidential nomination, they also introduced Americans to an unfamiliar group of young guns like Paul Ryan and Susana Martinez that typify the next generation of GOP leaders.
The business on the second night of presidential conventions often involves taking the party’s principles from the obtuse language of a platform to the pragmatic sound bites of a podium.
And the Republican Party’s more familiar faces of yester-year – Condoleezza Rice, Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Tim Pawlenty–dutifully sold the party’s ideas on energy, environment, national security and regulation in the retail terms needed to connect with everyday Americans.
But a second, more consequential event also transpired Wednesday night on stage in Tampa, culminating with Paul Ryan’s vice presidential acceptance speech. The Grand Old Party began the process of changing its guard to a new generation that will define much of its path for the next quarter century.
Like the 1976 convention that cemented the start of the Reagan era or the post-1992 election diaspora that gave rise to Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, Wednesday night introduced America to an ambitious crowd of newcomers.
This gang of 30- and 40-somethings – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ryan himself – share many of the same traits.
They are as brash as they are telegenic. They're more digitally savvy, more ideologically opposed to government solutions, more diverse in backgrounds and adamantly determined to not allow this generation's problems of mounting debt be passed on unchanged to the next.
They can talk about life’s real experiences – Ryan’s widowed mother’s odyssey to a new career or Martinez's rise from border poverty – in ways more recent GOP leaders and the current standard bearer Mitt Romney cannot.
And they’re determined to make clear they are as dead serious about fixing things as they are optimistic things can be fixed.
“We can do this,” Ryan shouted with enthusiasm at the end of his address.
Their other trait is a fiery desire to fight, even on issues like Medicare that seem off limits in the realm of political common sense.
“I fear some of our leaders today have lost the courage to stand up,” Martinez explained. “What we have now are politicians. They won't offer real plans, and only stand up when they want to blame someone else. “
Truth, of course, can be a casualty during the exercises of a political convention. And Wednesday was no exception. Republicans like Ryan assailed the president for the debt deal without mentioning they were at the bargaining table too. They boasted they opposed the stimulus even though they wrote letters seeking money from it.
Still, their unfamiliar faces and their intentions, their ideas and their ambition were laid bare to a curious public on a nationally televised stage.
There’s no telling how this new group of young Republicans will fare in their efforts to sell themselves or their ideas to Americans wary of political promises or attacks.
The 1976 changing of Guard gave rise to a Reagan era still revered in GOP circles so many years later.
The 1994 revolution leaders, in contrast, flamed out after a string of wins that fell short of their defined victory, and today they are often viewed as victims of self-inflicted wounds of personal excesses and ego.
This new generation of Republican Rough Riders could go either way. But there’s no disputing their ascension has begun whether Mitt Romney wins or not in November.