The Romney campaign is better at dismantling than mantling. They’re better at taking opponents apart than building a compelling candidate of their own. They do not seem capable of deepening his meaning, making his stands and statements more textured and interesting. He comes across like a businessman who studied the data and came up with the formula that will make the deal.
A particular problem is that he betrays little indignation at any of our problems and their causes. He’s always sunny, pleasant, untouched by anger. This leaves people thinking, “Excuse me, but we are in crisis. Financially and culturally we fear our country is going down the drain. This guy doesn’t seem to be feeling it. So why’s he running? Maybe he thinks it’s his personal destiny to be president. But if the animating passion of his candidacy is about him, not us, who needs him?”
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Mitt Romney’s aides are making the classic mistake of thinking the voters want maturity, serenity and a jolly spirit. What they want is a man who knows what time it is, who has a passion to reform our country, and who yet holds these qualities within a temperament that is mature, serene and jolly. Newt Gingrich has half the package: He has a passion to reform, but it exists inside a crazy suit. Mitt has no particular passion within an obviously sane suit.
Which leads to Rick Santorum. Nobody in the conservative base hates Rick. Newt is hated by many and Mitt by some. Mr. Santorum is liked. He has real indignation about what’s happened to America, and he brings passion to his ideas about reform. He’s got little money, little organization—there’s no broad assumption he can pull it off. And by the time the Romney campaign is done dismantling him, he may have some people who hate him. But this will only underscore the Romney campaign’s reputation for destroying, not creating. And nobody loves a Death Star.
Newt’s not done and could rise again. I keep thinking of what a sage old pol, a veteran former GOP governor, said two weeks ago. He turned to me in conversation and said, “By the way, don’t call it a brokered convention. That’s what the media and the Democrats will call it because it implies there are brokers. Call it a contested convention because that’s what it will be, contested.” Could it really come to that? The odds, he said, are still way against it. “But they’re probably the best in my lifetime.”
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