MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Let us now praise Mitt Romney: not for being exciting, creative or inspiring; not for being Kennedyesque, Reaganesque or even 2008 Obamaesque. Mitt Romney is none of those.
But he is a dogged, meticulously organized man of family and faith, who has been around the block in politics and business, (vicious when he has to be, dissembling when he has to be,) who is photogenic, well educated and well spoken, and, most important, has the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time.
His campaign slogan could be, "Romney: Because He is Available, Plausible and Not Entirely Objectionable."
And it's working.
Why? Because, after years of serial disappointments with politics and politicians, skeptical, weary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire seem to have tired of searching for a savior or a charismatically inspirational figure. (Even Ron Paul, who presides over the most enthusiastic rallies, is a cranky, anti-charismatic figure.)
Because many people see Romney's family and personal history (one marriage and a lovely family) as evidence of decency -- certainly more people than generally cynical reporters in the press corps appreciate.
Because Romney has been blessed with the weirdest, weakest and most self-destructive field of foes since Han Solo walked into the Star Wars bar.
Because Ron Paul is soaking up much of the anti-establishment fervor that might otherwise be aimed at Romney.
Because Romney has the backing of what remains of the GOP establishment, in Washington and elsewhere -- people who have the wherewithal and the wisdom of decades of backing Bushes and Reagans.
Because he has a well-run campaign and a savvy staff, who are pursuing patiently and with skill a theory first enunciated by the late Lee Atwater, a master of GOP politics 20 years ago. As Vice President George H.W. Bush's handler in 1988, Atwater said that his candidate already was in the "presidential rowboat" in the minds of voters; it was up to Atwater to make sure that no one else was able to climb aboard. So the paddles came out. So far, Romney and his allies -– and even some of his rivals -– have been all paddles.
Because exit polls show that the economy, above all, is what voters are worried about, and Romney has a case to make that has the advantage (one Romney hasn't always exploited) of combining business and government. In New Hampshire, voters said that they cared most about the economy (33 percent), experience (27 percent), character (24 percent) and conservatism (13 percent). Mitt fit that profile better than any of the others here.
Because the "conservative movement," which Ronald Reagan put together in 1980 -- unifying the libertarian, hawk and Bible belt -- has fallen apart. No one can unify it, at least not this crew, and in the rubble Mitt walks alone tonight.
He can thank voters such as Bob Walters, a salesman from Manchester, who had considered Newt Gingrich among others, before settling -- his word -- on Romney.
"I am a Republican and I want change and I finally realized that Romney is the most likely one to bring it."