In politics, it’s not just about what you do. It’s also about what you don’t do. Writing is similar. The best edits typically involve removing — not adding — content. What makes this difficult is that often the things you delete are good. They just don’t fit.
Nobody wants to leave their ideas on the cutting room floor, but it is a vital step in in the artistic process. It’s painful; there’s a reason we call this “killing your babies.” But less is more.
This is basically my criticism of the Republican Convention. There were many, many very good moments — but they were too often watered-down or undermined by off-message moments. The problem was a lack of message discipline.
It’s hard to blame the Romney campaign for all of this. Sometimes nominees are sort of forced to include speakers who represent disparate wings of the party for political purposes. What is more, it’s impossible to force some speakers to stay on message. How can you tell Clint Eastwood — Clint Eastwood! — what to say if he decides he wants to do improv?
But here’s how you do it. First, you begin with the end in mind. You settle on the three things you want to accomplish when it’s all said and done. In my estimation, the list should have been:
1. Humanize Mitt Romney. Tell stories that show his compassion. (THURSDAY)
2. Make the case that Barack Obama has failed — and we want to especially hit on the welfare stuff and the “you didn’t build that line” as themes, and
3. Push back on the “war on women” meme by highlighting a diverse group of rising star speakers
Once you settle on the three things must accomplish (and that’s frankly about all you can hope for), everything else becomes easy: Anything that does not fit into one of those three categories gets nixed.
Settling on this list tells you who gets to speak, what they get to say, and when they get to say it.
And since humanizing Romney is arguably the most important (and difficult) task, it becomes vital that nothing interrupts or conflicts with that messaging on the night he speaks.
Unfortunately, Eastwood was a distraction.
It was still a good night. But it would have been even better if they kept some things out.