Far from a William Jennings Bryan, Mitt Romney isn't even a Wendell Willkie. Not yet. And even they lost, though both inspired. Mr. Romney's speeches, or rather presentations, still sound as if he's delivering a PowerPoint presentation in the boardroom. And not addressing a great and varied nation looking for a leader in these uncertain times, as are they all.
Mr. Romney, bless his sleek, well-groomed heart, makes Rick Santorum, who at least knows how to witness, sound charismatic. The Republican front-runner should be desperately seeking a ghostwriter who can channel his soul -- if it can be found. A talent like Ted Sorensen, who made Jack Kennedy sound like a scholar, or Louis Howe, FDR's amanuensis. For now Mitt Romney still speaks in slogans and soundbites rather than memorable phrases. Can you recall any at all, except the gaffes?
No wonder the faces at Romney rallies bring to mind an assemblage of paid mourners emoting on cue. The chants of "Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!" sound canned. Unlike the genuine affection and trust of I Like Ike.
Mr. Romney seems to have campaigned everywhere, yet nowhere. He has this uncanny ability to trek through the deepest snows and most crowded cities without leaving any mental footprints. Americans look for feeling and we get a balance sheet. A perfectly acceptable balance sheet, perhaps, but still only a balance sheet.
If it's any comfort, let's not forget that, before he became a myth, Ronald Reagan was just another presidential candidate in the crowd, too. And that Dwight Eisenhower, who would become one of the most successful American presidents of the last century, was dismissed as a squishy candidate on the issues, At least by the true believers who followed Robert A. Taft in 1952 with a devotion now reserved for Ron Paul, this year's Pat Buchanan. Glamour ain't all. Slow and steady may not only win the race but rejuvenate the American economy, the way Ike of all people did in the Fifties.
Once the reports of all Mitt Romney's arrived late Tuesday night, it may have seemed like the race for the Republican nomination was all over but the well-orchestrated shoutin'. But it ain't over till the fat lady trills or, in this endless campaign, the magic 1,144th and decisive vote is cast at the Republicans' national convention. If it's a long way to Tipperary, it seems even longer just now to Tampa.
So on with the American show and tedium -- even if the audience is already stifling yawns, or just heading for the exits. One election night is down, and it's time to get the scenery in place for the next. Strength. This is going to be a long slog.
Keep the faith. As a German statesman named Bismarck once observed, not without a trace of envy, God looks after fools, drunkards and the United States of America -- may He ever do so, despite our deserts. The name for that process is not presidential politics but grace.
For now the endless Republican presidential campaign and agony goes on. On to Illinois. On to Mississippi and Alabama. And on and on. One reason it goes on is that the GOP's masterminds who devised this year's primaries let states opt for proportional representation -- instead of the old, reliable winner-take-all system, which is as derided as it is decisive.
Let this be a lesson to all the quadrennial "reformers" who want to drop the winner-take-all feature of the Electoral College and choose presidents by congressional districts, or by popular vote no matter how big the field of candidates. The current, time-evolved system of electoral votes tends to deliver a clear and early decision. Change it and every presidential election could be a repeat of rarities like Hayes-Tilden in 1876 or Bush-Gore in 2000. Please, spare us such "reforms."