Anyone watching the Republican convention this week couldn't avoid feeling that for many speakers their appearance on the Tampa stage was more of an audition for their own future ambitions than an endorsement of Mitt Romney.
Call it a lack of confidence in Romney or just the usual naked ambition of politicians, but many speakers sounded like they were running for president themselves should Romney fail, or a cabinet post if he wins.
Of course, they all embraced their party's 2012 standard-bearer, albeit with the requisite enthusiasm. But often the speeches were more "me" than "Mitt." Chris Christie's keynote address didn't even mention Romney until about two thirds of the way through, well after a tribute to his mother and to his own achievements in Trenton.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum seemed to pick up right where he left off when he dropped out of the primary race early this summer, even repeating the same over-used rhetoric and anecdotes as he pressed his hardline conservative agenda, focusing on himself and barely mentioning Romney.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke eloquently not only about foreign and national security policy but domestic issues as well, sparking talk of a political future, perhaps governor of California or national office. She said her father had told her she could grow up to become president. Maybe we'll have a Hillary-Condi match-up.
Paul Ryan, the second banana, wasn't even subtle about portraying himself as the now generation and the future of the GOP, right down to his iPod play list.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry told one reporter he was "absolutely" thinking about another presidential run in 2016, the Washington Post reported.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky barely mentioned Romney but paid tribute to his father, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the libertarian who challenged Romney more than any other rival in the primaries and has refused to endorse the nominee. He may have plans to step into Dad's shoes.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, was asked on the eve of the convention if he might run in the future, he said, "I'm not there yet." "Yet" being the operative word.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell chaired the committee that wrote the most conservative platform in party history, positioning himself to come back after a Romney defeat to say the candidate wasn't conservative enough to mobilize the base and motivate the country.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has no future as a stand-up comic and, after a weak showing in the primaries and on stage Wednesday evening, nor as a future presidential candidate; his best hope is seat in a Romney cabinet.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is already on everyone's short list for 2016 or 2020. He represents a rapidly growing minority that the GOP needs badly. His speech introducing Romney is a prime time opportunity to introduce himself to the faithful and the nation. He was on Romney's short list for VP, something which must have been on his mind earlier this summer when he told an interviewer that if he did well as vice president he might be a candidate for higher office some day.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal stayed home to deal with Hurricane Isaac. He may have missed the convention but had he showed up and gone AWOL from the storm his political career would be over. Instead, he's very much still a contender.
Several governors and senators also auditioned. You can expect to be hearing a lot more from them no matter who wins in November.
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