WASHINGTON — Republicans heading to their party convention are eager to hear an earful about the shortcomings of President Barack Obama's record, the woeful U.S. economy and the competing visions of the two presidential candidates. What they aren't looking for is any mention of compromise, which most Americans say is necessary to get the nation back on track.
The Republicans want a party like in 1980, when the GOP ousted a Democratic president after one term.
Delegates from around the country have big dreams for the Aug. 27-30 gathering in Tampa, Fla., where Mitt Romney will accept the party's nomination and Republicans will kick off their final push to defeat Obama. They sketched out a sharp message they want to hear from speaker after speaker – onetime White House hopefuls, GOP governors, congressional leaders and the party's top recruits angling to win a job in Washington.
Conventions are four-day slugfests directed at the opposing party and its candidate. The rhetoric is brutal, vitriolic and far from conciliatory. Some lines are memorable.
"Poor George, he can't help it – he was born with a silver foot in his mouth," quipped Texas state treasurer Ann Richards to laughs and applause at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in 1988. Her target was the well-heeled GOP nominee, Vice President George H.W. Bush.
Twenty years later, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination at the GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., and compared her mayoral experience in Wasilla, Alaska, to that of nominee Obama.
"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities," she said.
The crowd roared.
Ed Cox, the chairman of the Republican Party in New York, wants speakers at the convention to echo the message that Romney delivered after he won the Wisconsin primary in April. Romney cast the election as a choice between what he called Obama's "government-centered society" and the "opportunity society" the former businessman said he would pursue as president.
"This is the crux of our message, that we are for an opportunity society of free people and free enterprise," Cox said in an interview with The Associated Press. "America has always been about people having dreams, going out and working to make them. To do that they don't want the heavy hand of government on top of them, whether it's in taxes or regulations."
The Obama administration in its first year "ignored what they were elected to do, which was to pay attention to jobs and the economy," said Cox, who has seen his share of conventions as the son-in-law of President Richard M. Nixon.
Jim McErlane, a lawyer from Chester County, Pa., said convention speakers should keep it simple.
"The economy, the economy, the economy," he said in an interview. "Jobs, jobs, jobs."
Shawn Steel, a lawyer from Palos Verdes, Calif., wants the convention to remind Americans of 1980, when Ronald Reagan accepted the nomination in Detroit and then scored a landslide victory that knocked out President Jimmy Carter and helped Republicans seize control of the Senate.
"In 1980, there was not much interest in moderating, with inflation, the state of the world, foreign policy and just the general decline of the American economy," Steel said in an interview. "People don't want to moderate. They want some really crisp answers and alternatives because this is the worst post-World War II economy in our history. It should not have gone this long. And one promise after another by this president has been broken."
The tough talk is a sharp contrast to what most Americans envision from elected leaders.
A CBS-New York Times poll from January found that 85 percent of adults think it is better for the country if Democrats and Republicans "compromise some of their positions in order to get things done," while just 11 percent said it's better if they "stick to their positions even if it means not getting as much done."
The preference for compromise held across party lines, with 80 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of independents and 89 percent of Democrats saying a little give is good for the country.
But the tough talk and division reflect how Americans vote.
In the Indiana GOP primary in May, voters rejected six-term Sen. Richard Lugar, a conservative willing to work with Democrats on foreign policy, for Richard Mourdock, who famously said: "I don't think there's going to be a lot of successful compromise. I hope to build a conservative majority in the U.S. Senate so bipartisanship becomes Democrats joining Republicans to roll back the size of government."
Moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have decided to retire, with Maine's Olympia Snowe decrying the "atmosphere of polarization." This will be the last year in the Senate for Nebraska's Ben Nelson, North Dakota's Kent Conrad, Virginia's Jim Webb and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman.
Congressional redistricting in the House has made it tougher for other moderates to survive, with conservative Democrats nearly extinct in the South and moderate Republicans disappearing in the Northeast.
Those are the Republicans unlikely to attend the convention in Tampa.