The results in Florida were even better for Mitt Romney than most of the wildly swinging polls said they would be. With 100 percent of the vote in the Republican primary in, he was getting almost half of it -- 46 percent in a four-man field. And this in the first state to vote that actually reflects the American electorate, for Florida is big and diverse and unpredictable and dynamic. It's not just a swing state but the swing state in presidential elections.
Mitt Romney had a nice win Tuesday. His closest rival, the ever-bobbing-up Newt Gingrich, ran a poor second with only 32 percent of the vote. It should have been a magical moment for Mr. Romney. But where was the magic?
Mitt Romney's long, slow transformation from business to political leader continues, and he's showing great improvement. Having lost the Republican primary in South Carolina, when Newt Gingrich's debating skills still shone, he won the debates in Florida with a new ease and finesse. The man always looked presidential; in these debates he sounded presidential. And proceeded to win the election. Big.
Yet his victory resembled a well-run board meeting more than a political breakout. His victory speech offered a memorable insight or two. (A "competitive primary does not divide us, it prepares us.") But the speech as a whole was as charisma-less as he is.
Mr. Romney may be mastering the mechanics of a successful presidential campaign, but not the essence: the magical touch that makes a campaign more than a campaign but a cause. He may have the words, but not the music. Right now he's about as rousing as a sedate trio playing at a tea dance.
He's the front-runner in the primaries for the moment, the polls indicate he's got the best chance by far of any Republican to win the White House come November, but he doesn't appeal to the ideologues in his party. He lacks sufficient zeal. And may never have it. He's an accountant, an executive, a businessman, a rational human being, not an ideologue.
In this year's GOP primaries, Ron Paul is the designated true believer. It remains to be seen whether he'll play the spoiler's role as third-party candidate come the general election -- the GOP's own Ralph Nader. He may be far removed from winning the Republican nomination, but not as far as he is from political reality.
As for the irrepressible, incorrigible, unpredictable Newt Gingrich, he's now gone from a super-sized charmer with just the right combination of grace and zing, a political version of old Jackie Gleason hoofing with impressive ease, to just another irascible old man reciting excuses for a long chain of defeats and looking for others to blame.