Ugly, noisy primary fights are such a boon to American democracy. The venom, the scrutiny, and the cash, hurled in great big gobs of defamation, finally break down candidates to the point where they can no longer hide who they are. And defeating this beast—The Process—can turn a cyborg into a dragon slayer. In Florida, Robo-Man Romney got so pissed with Newt’s freshly funded advertising savageries that he bared some fangs at long last. But winning makes you cocky, and when you’re cocky you slip up. Romney’s CNN interview that offered the soundbite “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there” nailed him harder to the 1 percent persona than any attack-PAC ad campaign could do.
The volume of Mitt’s gaffes is slim compared with his opponent’s. Newt Gingrich is so fueled by resentment that self-destruction is part of his roadshow. As the populist vehicle for Tea Party anger, some of Newt’s “rage” is fake. Lloyd Grove describes this week how, far from being an enemy of the “elite media,” the candidate enjoys sharing a beer and a banter with the hacks at the end of a long campaign day, and once famously said, “If you’re not in The Washington Post every day you might as well not exist.”
Still, the primary marathon, let alone the modern presidency, is so brutal it’s more and more mandatory for only cool temperaments to apply. Obama’s evenness is boring but essential. This frustrates the press, which yearns for YouTube emotion. In the 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton was relentlessly self-disciplined. When she showed the welling of a tiny tear in New Hampshire, it became a national sensation (and gave her a win). She never risked emotion again. Bill Clinton’s outbursts on behalf of Hillary in the last campaign only boomeranged on his wife. It makes you wonder if any pol as volcanic as Lyndon Johnson could now win an election. If Obama and Romney duke it out, it will be the Battle of the Icemen. Perhaps Chris Christie, if he’s Romney’s veep pick, will make things less frigid. But after the New Jersey governor’s own insouciant soundbite last week—about how “people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South”—the brisk, no-nonsense darling of the plutocrat class may turn out to be a big, bouncing liability.
Immigration is Romney’s next bed of nails as he prepares to hit Hispanic-heavy Arizona. In his desperation to bag the Tea Party vote, he’s scorned a decent path to citizenship for illegal immigrants as “amnesty.” It puts him at odds with his own Mormon church, which stresses the need to keep families intact. He should read Patrick Symmes’s report this week on what’s happened in Alabama, where the state’s law H.B. 56 has cut off all services to the undocumented. The law is immensely popular—and isn’t working. Illegals driven out creep back, because they’re needed. A Costa Rican couple who clean toilets recall working for an Alabama VIP who inveighs against Latinos but hires them to clean his house. If the law sputters out, says Symmes, it may be because Alabamians “want a clean house more than they want to clean house”—as Romney himself found when he dismissed the illegal hombres tending his lawn only to have the contractors replace them with other indocumentados.