06/02/2011 03:23 pm ET | Updated Aug 02, 2011

Romney Launches Campaign in New Hampshire As If It's Just Another Box to Check

STRATHAM, N.H. - In New Hampshire this week, somebody doesn't get it -- either Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin. Maybe neither one does.

Romney declared for president the old-fashioned way, with a picture-perfect, substantively vapid speech in front of a flag-draped barn and a chili-fed crowd of the usual political suspects.

Meanwhile, like a hurricane or a hitchhiker, Palin worked her way up the coast solo in her non-campaign bus, without bothering to tell the state chairman that she was coming, or telling the press -- which was following her in an ever-lengthening convoy -- where she is going to host a clambake (Seabrook, evidently).

The national press corps at the Romney event noted the respectful but hardly wild reception for the candidate, even as they spent most of their time trying to figure out where Palin was going -- and whether they had the time to catch up with her.

"She's a cultural figure, not a political one," said a member of the Romney team, dismissively. But the opposite is true as well: Romney is a political figure, not a cultural one.

Even by the empty modern standards of announcement rituals, Romney's speech was remarkable for its cursory, content-free nature. He said that he believed in America, that President Obama had made the economy worse, and that he, Romney, had the management and business experience to put the country in "turnaround."

He promised to put a cap on federal spending and balance the budget, but did not give the slightest hint of how he would do either.

He attacked Obama, but mildly, and made no mention of his actual or potential rivals. At the end he somehow decided to thank his family -- some of which were in the audience rather than on the stage -- for listening.

It was as though the campaign felt it had a duty to do a "launch," but to say and do as little as possible in the process. Romney's handlers didn't seem to mind or care that the crowd was tepid and the speech evanescent. It was just another box to check.

Romney is raising tons of money -- the old-fashioned way -- from donors and bundlers -- and he has the support of most if not all of the GOP political establishment in the state, from the Sununus on down to Doug Scamman, whose gentleman farm here hosted the launch.

And having run once, he knows what mistakes to avoid. The absence of tactical errors is a worthy thing. And talking to voters here, they are not looking for magic this time or ideological purity and inspirational charisma. They are just looking for someone to beat Obama.

But how can you be that someone when your "launch" is an afterthought and you are almost an asterisk at your own debut event?