Paul Greenberg

That would have been a big story out of Illinois last week if only Mitt Romney had lost as big as he won. It would have meant the Republican front-runner wasn't the Republican front-runner any more, which has happened before in this up-and-down-and-up-again race for the GOP's presidential nomination. Instead, he won by double digits rather than just squeaking past Rick Santorum as he'd done in Michigan and Ohio.

But that story was promptly offset by Rick Santorum's wholly expected win in Louisiana's GOP primary. The odds were always against the front-runner there. Republican voters in the Bayou State weren't about to be swept off their feet by a candidate who had to force his y'alls and spoke of "cheesy grits." Talk about a stranger in a strange land: No matter how hard Mitt Romney tried to pass himself off as just a good ol' boy from Wall Street, his generic American executalk wasn't exactly Louisiana's cup of roux.

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Whatever bumps and gaffes are still to come, and they will, the Romney organization grinds on in its methodical way, collecting more delegates, campaign contributions and endorsements. (Florida's Jeb Bush finally came through with his after the results from Illinois were in.) You can almost hear the Romney bandwagon creak out of low gear -- but it ain't in high yet. Not by a long shot.

Mitt Romney is a long-distance runner, not a sprinter. His strength is that of the party's establishment, but so is his weakness: a failure to connect with the true believers. The intangible magic that makes a great campaigner has yet to make an appearance in all his well-programed appearances.

What's he missing? It's what the great communicators, the Ronald Reagans and FDRs, had: a storyline. A gift for narration. A mastery of the media they had to work with at the time. Nobody's going to be elected president of the United States on the strength of a spreadsheet, or because he's a great data miner.

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Mr. Romney has the skill set of a corporate executive, but the American people aren't likely to be touched, moved and inspired by a profit-and-loss statement. We yearn for something more -- an aura. An aura of greatness, a presidential aura, the aura a great story casts. We live and believe by stories. No wonder the Bible is full of them.

The one and maybe the only affecting television commercial the Romney campaign has produced relates how the candidate reacted when a fellow executive at Bain Capital called him one summer day in 1996. As his associate, Robert Gay, tells the story:

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


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