I'M GOING TO PUNCH THE FIRST INSIDER JOURNALIST WHO USES THE PHRASE "FORGED IN THE CRUCIBLE"
At Politico, John Harris and James Hohmann begin the process of constructing a new narrative: that Mitt Romney will be a noble battle-tested warrior if he beats Newt Gingrich.
I'm exaggerating, but only somewhat:
Here is one way to look at Mitt Romney's challenge from Newt Gingrich: As one more humiliation delivered by Republican activists who have made clear over and over that they would really, really prefer to fall in love with someone, anyone, whose name is not Mitt Romney.
But, according to many veterans of past presidential campaigns, there is another way of looking at the situation: As potentially the best thing that could happen to Romney....
This is the Nietzsche theory of presidential politics: That which does not kill you makes you stronger.
By these lights, no candidate could benefit so much from winning a bloody, chairs-flying brawl than Romney, who never has a hair out of place but also has rarely managed to inspire anything more ardent than I-guess-he'll-do support even from his own backers."
"All of us who want to go to heaven have to experience the long dark night of the soul. Everyone who goes to the White House has to live through a near-death experience," said Paul Begala, who helped engineer Bill Clinton's 1992 comeback in the face of questions about infidelity and draft dodging. "There's nothing else that tests you as completely as running for president: emotionally, temperamentally, ideologically and organizationally. Mitt's being tested. And you know what? Life's been pretty damn easy for Mitt Romney." ...
Harris and Hohmann's tone isn't exactly warm, but the hints are there: The insider press is going to respond to a Romney victory by saying that the struggle has built his character. The journos are going to say they must have misjudged his toughness, his mettle, his depths of character, his smarts, his savvy, because they doubted him and mocked him but he will have vanquished a mighty foe, which means that maybe he really does have the Right Stuff.
I see a much different narrative: here's a guy who's done this before, who has the organization, who has the money, and yet he still can't win the damn thing, even on the second try, without the help of entire GOP establishment, which has had to rescue him in turn from Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and now Ron Paul. Send lawyers, guns, and money!
Nahhh -- when Romney starts winning primaries, he'll be Tom Hanks as envisioned by Steven Spielberg. He'll be the quiet man with surprising, unplumbed depths of toughness. Just you wait.
(In case it's not clear, what I'm worried about is that Romney will be treated by the media like Poppy Bush in 1988 -- as the awkward but nobly reliable suburban dad whose social clumsiness is somehow a virtue. I admit, however, that the more common theory -- that Romney will be treated like Al Gore in 2000 -- is quite plausible.)