Now this losing candidate can make his gala appearance at the GOP's national convention, and maybe quite a few afterward.
Newt Gingrich can deliver another stemwinder of a speech in Tampa that will excite the excitable to no great effect on anyone else.
And last and not just least but odd man out, Ron Paul can remain Ron Paul -- unchanged and unchangeable since circa 1896. More a museum piece than a presidential candidate. He can be put on exhibit at Tampa, too.
The good news is that now the real race can begin. The one to be decided in November.
The prelims were formally concluded Tuesday with Mr. Santorum's announcement that he was "suspending" his campaign -- that is, giving it a decent, prepaid interment. And everybody can move on to the main event.
The country has waited for this moment too long already. Let's get this show, the Big Show, on the road. And try to remember it's supposed to be fun, not just another endurance contest. And it will be. Even if that may take some grim-faced determination. Fun is too valuable, too essential, an ingredient of an American political campaign to let it be lost.
Great losers can be fun, too. One thinks of Adlai Stevenson, who didn't take the precaution of hiding his wit while delivering some of the most eloquent campaign addresses in recent American history, maybe the most eloquent. The country, it turned out, liked Ike, but Adlai earned its respect. In part because, like Abe Lincoln, he knew how to tell a joke.
We are a fun-loving people, and if we ever stop being one, we'll stop being American. That's something else Europeans don't appreciate about America, which is another good reason to cultivate it.
Just when this year's Republican presidential race was concluded may be a subject of some debate and any number of post-mortems among political junkies. My nomination would be the moment Mitt Romney swept the Illinois primary in March instead of just eking out another close win the way he did in Michigan and Ohio.
You might have your own nomination for the tipping point. Not that most Americans, being much too sane to follow these matters in tiresome detail, may much care about just when this intramural contest was decided. We're a people who tend to look ahead to the future, not back to the past -- as instructive as that perspective might be.
Mitt Romney hasn't so much won the nomination as just hung around long enough to get it. His victory has been as undramatic as his campaign, which may be his big problem. Since it became clear he would win the run-up to the fall, he does seem to have developed a new ease, a new ability to counter-punch, and the man who always looked like a president has begun to talk more like one. But only a little more. It's not that he needs more calculation. He's got more than enough of that. He needs less scripting, not more.
Mr. Romney's undramatic victory, or rather inevitable emergence, is both his strength and weakness as a presidential candidate. Surely, no one can believe that anyone so devoid of flair could be a danger to the Republic, for he appears abnormally normal, but where is that indefinable quality, that x factor Americans look for in a president?
Every great president may have his own unique version of that quality. It eludes definition, but you know it when you sense it -- whether in an FDR or even a Theodore Roosevelt, a Truman or an Eisenhower, a Kennedy or a Reagan. You don't have to be a fan of any of those presidents to recognize that they had something Americans wanted -- and needed -- in a leader in their time, and still do.
Mitt Romney has got a lot of thinking to do, even praying, before Americans really begin paying attention to him or the final laps in this race. God help him -- and anybody else who's a serious candidate for president of the United States. It takes some moxie to volunteer for the job, and a lot more. If there's a single word for the hard-to-pin-down quality that Americans look for in a president, it is a capacity for greatness. As distinguished from all the press releases, nominating speeches and general blather extolling a candidate's supposed greatness.
It is a rare quality, the promise of greatness, and there are some who despair of any candidate's showing it in our time. Our great presidents, like our best days, we may be tempted to believe, are behind us.
It's a temptation that never tempted me. After every great president is gone, there are those who say there will never be another -- another Washington, another Lincoln, another Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan ... and there haven't been.
Instead, the next great president will be his own unique man -- or woman. And there will be such a president. For, as Bismarck said, God looks after fools, drunkards and the United States of America.
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