As Mitt Romneycontinued to build his delegate count for the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday night with five more primary victories, his new campaign slogan proclaimed: "A better America begins tonight."
The message seemed to announce that the November election was all over but the shouting, although he has yet to be nominated by a party still demonstrably cool to him, let alone anointed by the American voters as their next president.
Actually, all that was beginning that night in Mr. Romney's upbeat speech in Manchester, N.H., the site of his first 2012 primary success, was the dead period that lies ahead until the Republican convention officially designates him, as matters now stand, as the GOP nominee.
What began that night, or more accurately what continued that night, was Mr. Romney's unfinished task of convincing the party faithful, and now the general public, that he has the stuff to lift the nation's sluggish economy out of the doldrums. For all his repeated self-proclamation that his success in private enterprise proves he's up to the job, his specifics on how he'll succeed in running the public's business are still lacking.
Winston Churchill's famous observation that "this pudding has no theme" applies well to the substance of Mr. Romney's campaign so far. Its prime ingredient up to now has been that the present cook in the kitchen, Barack Obama, has failed to serve up a digestible menu. If only the voters get him out of there, Mr. Romney repeatedly argues, the free enterprise system under his guiding hand will put the economy back on course.
His central cheer line continues to be getting rid of "government-run health care," which in reality is merely health insurance provided by the government through the private health-care industry. He also continues to trumpet an end to government regulation of Wall Street, which continues to roll up huge profits for its managers and manipulators.
Mr. Romney promises to unshackle the American private business engine to create enough jobs to break the unemployment crisis. However, as he so promises, employers continue to squeeze more productivity out of fewer workers without an appreciable benefit to them, and certainly not to the millions of the formerly employed still left idle.
In reality, what began the other night in Mr. Romney's "A better America begins tonight" was an effort to put behind him the divisive and unconvincing Republican primary fight that has left scars on his aspirations, and on the party he hopes to lead in a more unified and optimistic fashion than it has been shown to be so far this year.
After any contested presidential nomination fight, a consolidation of opposing forces within the party obviously is imperative to enhance the prospects for election in the fall. But in Mr. Romney's case, his struggle for the nomination required excessive effort to assuage a doubting conservative base in the party, which still cannot be ignored as he now tries to reach beyond it to more moderate and independent voters.
His promise of a better America beginning now relied in the end on a repetition of the Ronald Reagan pitch against Jimmy Carter in 1980: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" This time around, Mr. Romney asked: "What do we have to show for three and a half years of President Obama? Is it easier to make ends meet? Is it easier to sell your house or buy a new one? Have you saved what you need for retirement? Are you making more in your job? Do you have a better chance to get a better job? Do you pay less at the pump?"
Ronald Reagan's recitation of Jimmy Carter's failures was more than enough to deliver him a landslide victory 32 years ago. But a much bigger difference between then and now was that Reagan truly embodied the Republican Party he led. Can Mr. Romney, once nominated, generate same enthusiastic hope of delivery on his promise of a better America? And has America lost confidence in Mr. Obama, as it had in Mr. Carter? That, in the end, seems to be Mr. Romney's own dominant hope.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and a former longtime writer for The Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is email@example.com.