Time to shake that Etch a Sketch!
With tonight’s batch of primaries, Mitt Romney is finally prying that can’t-close-the-deal monkey off his back. Yes, the Republican battle will technically grind on—although mostly inside Newt Gingrich’s head. The rank and file may not love Mittens. Hell, many of them still can’t stand the sight of him. But, to borrow a line from Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the nominee you’ve got.
At first blush, this nominating race may strike some as having been much ado about nothing. Going in, the frontrunner was an accomplished, highly polished former governor with no core, no charm, and a striking inability to inspire. Millions of dollars, thousands of attack ads, and a half-dozen “surges” later, the landscape looks much the same. Whether Romney managed along the way to learn anything or up his game isn’t clear. He remains stiff, awkward, gaffe-prone, and unable to connect with the 99 percent. Voters still don’t much like him. And for some inexplicable reason, people are still prattling on about what Seamus’s ride on the roof of the family car says about the candidate’s character.
Still, looking at the broader picture, there are a few lessons to come out of this race—useful takeaways, if you will. Some are specific to this field; others could easily apply to future races. All are best consumed with a bucket of chicken wings and a large glass of vodka. In no particular order:
1. Authenticity is overrated. Whatever its shortcomings, this race was neck deep in authentic characters. Some were authentically nuts. Others were authentically offensive. The former House speaker is authentically insufferable. So, despite the eternal fetishization of candidates who are “real” or “genuine,” what do we learn from Mitt’s victory? When push comes to shove, most Americans will take sanity over authenticity.
2. Super PACs are the force to be reckoned with. Romney’s PAC pals decimated the opposition in Iowa. Sheldon Adelson kept Newt afloat long after the voters stopped caring. Santorum never would have had his surge without Foster Friess pumping up the Red, White, and Blue Fund. Big money has never been bigger. Fans of the new system should drop a thank-you note to Justice Roberts and the four other Supremes who decided Citizens United.
3. Debates matter. Just ask Newt. Or Rick Perry. There is, however, a point of diminishing returns. And that point falls somewhere before debate No. 20.
4. Donald Trump is a cross between a rodeo clown and a carnival barker. Anyone who takes his political views seriously for two seconds—much less seeks his endorsement—should be stripped of all voting rights.
5. Iowa needs to lose its first-to-vote status. Take all the perennial reasons why the caucuses are a disaster, then toss in this year’s comedy of errors. I mean, only a handful of Iowans even come out on caucus night and still the state can’t get the count right? Poor Rick Santorum.
6. God may forgive a guy for unceremoniously dumping two wives for newer models, but the female electorate isn’t so understanding.
7. When in doubt, bitch-slap the media. Not that every candidate out there didn’t already know this.
8. Sweater vests can give a guy a certain warm-and-fuzzy, old-fashioned Father Knows Best appeal.
9. Dissing contraception, college, female soldiers, and JFK do not.
10. In the midst of a tough economy, never, under any circumstance, make a statement that can be in any way construed as implying that you do not care about the economy or jobless rate or poor people. It doesn’t matter what very important broader point you’re trying to make. Don’t do it.
11. Hand over your tax returns. This is how the game works. Get over it. Foot-dragging only makes it look like you have something to hide.
12. Know when to take your toys and go home. Tim Pawlenty arguably left a bit early. Newt, meanwhile, keeps stubbornly blowing by off-ramp after off-ramp on his tour of the nation’s zoos. Of everyone, Santorum seemed to time it the best.
13. Having three hot daughters can be a boring candidate’s best asset.
And whatever you do:
Now on to the generals!