Mitt Romney’s kickoff got short shrift in my appearance on CNN this morning, so here’s a thought or two as we await the official announcement later today . . .
If we’re surprised to see Romney a soft front-runner, perhaps we’re succumbing to a variation of the Pauline Kael effect. If you look around the conservative blogosphere and in the comments sections, you don’t see a lot of intense Romney fans. Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan — all of these figures have loud, passionate supporters making the case for their choice fervently. And yet, when Gallup or others survey the field, Romney leads by a small margin. Does Mitt have a Silent Majority? No, but perhaps a quiet, or non-blogging, plurality.
He seems a “safe” choice in more ways than one. To be a candidate in a presidential campaign must be a surreal experience. At first you’re begging for attention, and then, with any luck, you’re suddenly subject to more attention than you can handle. Almost from the moment you awaken to the moment you go to sleep, you’re talking, talking, talking, almost always into a microphone or phone, and every word is being scrutinized. All of your traditional positions on taxes, economics, national security, social issues, will probably generate little response. But if you slip up, and imply, for example, on national television that the Republican proposal on Medicare amounts to “right-wing social engineering,” you’ve suddenly sabotaged your own campaign, perhaps beyond recovery.
The life of a candidate is a hot furnace. Can a Tim Pawlenty handle this kind of scrutiny, day in and day out? Herman Cain? Jon Huntsman? They’ll insist they’re ready, but you never really know until you’re living in the maelstrom.
Romney has done it before, and while he must find the results of his 2008 bid inevitably disappointing, he emerged more or less unscathed. There were no huge gaffes, no meltdowns, no screams of “YEAARRGH!” after losing Iowa.
At this early date, Romney leads Iowa, currently leads in New Hampshire by a wide margin, and is one of the few candidates in the field for whom money will not be an issue. There are many worse places to be for an aspiring president.