It takes good genes and a patrician’s bearing to manage to continue to look good while you’re getting beaten around the ring like a last-second stand-in on the undercard. For a man being pummeled silly with his own money belt and the bottomless box of rocks of every position he’s ever held on every marquee Republican issue, you could barely see Mitt Romney sweat, even as he hemmed, hawed, flapped his arms, and walked right into every McCain roundhouse.
McCain, meanwhile, was quietly giddy as the easily-rattled Mitt took every morsel of bait McCain threw out.
For John McCain, last night’s debate in Simi Valley was a post-Florida victory lap, a chance to unwind and savor his new role as the almost-certain GOP nominee by slapping around his vanquished adversary. John McCain has been a fighter his whole life, and he knows what to do with an opponent when you’ve got him on the ropes: You keep pounding him until he doesn’t get up again.
The fact that it’s Mitt Romney on the ropes makes these final salvos all the more delicious for the new prospective standard-bearer. He came into the race with too much money and too many positions. He was like the ROTC commander that the up-from-the-ranks officers despised. He came in with a lot of buzz early because of his business acumen, his political lineage, his seeming broad-appeal electability, and his Cary Grant good looks. He was a President straight out of Central Casting.
But then, unlike his makeup and hair gel, he started melting under the lights. He used his money to tar his fellow opponents with early attack ads and then proved he didn’t have a street-fighter’s ability to gird himself for the inevitable counter-punches. He’s easily-rattled and defensive, and once his opponents–all of whom had been slapped by Romney at one point or another of their potential ascendancy–spotted that glass jaw, they all spun their punching arms like Popeye and took aim.
Then there was his record, which looked like a Forest Service map of the Sierra Nevada mountains, or a Barry Bonds polygraph. He has the charisma to be able to reinvent himself depending upon whatever room he’s in, but the arrogance to think that no one will notice that the Mitt Romney who showed up in Room 214 isn’t the Mitt who showed up in Room 212. For a party that invented the term “flip-flop”, they can’t very well start playing the “nuanced position” and “evolved thinking” cards now, and the GOP knows that the Carvilles and the Begalas are salivating for a shot at Romney.
There’s another very big round to play next Tuesday, but there are very likely dark days to come for Mitt Romney. The party is starting to, however tepidly, rally around John McCain. Mitt Romney should save what’s left of his children’s inheritance and get himself a weekend show on FOX News, where he can save them a few bucks by doing his own hair and makeup.