You wrote about how everyone watching the convention is imagining how the speeches will seem to someone else, even though it might be that none of those "someone elses" are actually watching the speeches. The same thing happened when Kerry won the primaries. Everyone was voting for him because they thought he would appeal to someone else. And those voters believed at the time that that was the politically savvy thing to do. But it was actually politically disastrous: if everyone was just voting for him because they thought someone else would like him, then NO ONE ACTUALLY LIKED HIM.Today, the interestingly named Jonathan Cohn has this analysis of the 2004 primaries in The New Republic:
One problem is that if you're trying to choose the most "electable" person, I would imagine that you'd be likely to do it by process of elimination -- by ruling out all the candidates with obvious political liabilities. I think this is the number-one reason why Kerry won the primaries: he was the only candidate who didn't seem to have anything particularly wrong with him. Edwards was too inexperienced; Clark was a poor campaigner; Dean seemed kind of insane; Gephardt was too liberal; Lieberman was too conservative. So they choose the one candidate who has no qualities that would really make anyone hate him. The problem is that he also has no qualities that would really make anyone like him either.
The last time Democrats had to choose a nominee from a large field of candidates, in 2004, voters in the primaries said time and again that they had resolved to follow their minds rather than their hearts. Determined to beat President Bush any way they could, they picked the candidate who they believed stood the best chance of winning in the general election, rather than the candidate they liked best. And, with that in mind, they came up with reasons to reject almost every candidate.
Wesley Clark? He was too much of a political novice to win a general election. Howard Dean? Red staters could never stomach his left-wing extremism. John Edwards? More conservative voters might perceive him as too inexperienced, particularly on foreign policy. Dick Gephardt? Swing voters would associate him with the old, wasteful Democratic Party. Among the leading contenders, that left only John Kerry, who had no similarly glaring flaws. And that's a big reason (though, admittedly, not the only reason) he eventually became the nominee.
No doubt, the political flaws 2004 voters perceived in the other candidates were genuine. Dean's perceived extremism would indeed have been a hard sell down South; Clark really was prone to the stumbles you'd expect of a political rookie. Still, the calculation of voters was curiously one-sided--measuring candidates almost exclusively in terms of their flaws, rather than taking stock of their attributes, as well. It was if a Wall Street analyst sized up a company by examining its liabilities, while disregarding its assets. And the result was a predictably misguided conclusion.
If Kerry lacked the vulnerabilities of some of his rivals, he also lacked their skills. He couldn't win people over with charm or inspiration. And, while he had a bevy of nifty policy proposals, he had no grandiose, overarching message with which to sell them. So when the general campaign got tough, Kerry had no reservoir of public enthusiasm or support on which to draw.