On Saturday night Mitt Romney delivered essentially the same speech to South Carolina voters that he did to New Hampshire voters. The only trouble is that Mitt won in New Hampshire, whereas he lost in South Carolina. Everyone knows that you feel differently when you win than when you lose. Where is the pathos? Where is the regret? Where is the disappointment? I didn't see any on Saturday night. If you listened without knowing the results, you might be convinced that in fact Mitt Romney had actually won tonight, rather than lose by a stunningly large margin in a state where he led the polls just a week ago. A normal person, a relatable person, would have come on the stage and said, "Well, I blew it. I'm sorry. And by the way, here are my tax returns!" The crowd would have laughed, would have roared, would have forgiven, and would now be raring to go fight the fight in Florida. Instead, what did we hear? We heard a man who put a good face on defeat, who believes that by looking good and sounding optimistic, he can win over the crowd.
In many ways, Mitt Romney strikes me as old fashioned, a candidate from the 1950s. This is a man who thinks hard. This is a man who shields his personal life from public view as much as he can, despite running for president. This is a man who has genuinely lived a life of traditional family values, and therefore does not feel the need to brag about them. This is a man who shirks from cheap shots to his opponents, who prefers to take the high road in running for the highest public office we have. These are not bad qualities, and in fact I admire them. But 60 years have passed since Eisenhower led, and today Americans prefer candidates who feel, rather than candidates that think. Ask Hillary Clinton, and she'll tell you. Hillary Clinton pulled her win in the New Hampshire primary of 2008 because she cried, not because she thought. Her tears proved to us that she was a real person, rather than a robot set on autopilot, giving speech after speech about public policy issues. We wanted a human being, someone who understood our pain. We already knew how well Hillary could think; we wanted to be sure that she could also feel.
When Mitt Romney answered "Maybe" in response to Jon King's question as to whether he would release his tax returns, Mitt sealed his own fate in the South Carolina primary. Not only was it the wrong answer to the question, more importantly the answer played into the narrative of a man with something to hide. The most consistent attack on Mitt Romney, and the one that sticks, is that he is a man who does not reveal his true self. On issues like abortion, gay rights and health care, we think we know where he stands today but he hasn't convinced us that his change of heart has been anything other than political opportunism. Mitt's devotion to the Mormon faith confirms this storyline as well, because Mormonism is a religion which shrouds itself in secrecy, revealing its innermost traditions only to the most "worthy" practitioners of the faith. When confronted about these issues, Mitt is enigmatic, obscuring his own self in pious language that does not ring true. Why doesn't that language ring true? Because Mitt is not talking in the kind of language we are now accustomed to hearing. Because Mitt has not convinced us that we know how he really "feels."
Mitt Romney, America demands that you cry! If you can't cry when you lose, then cry when you win. Only don't wait too long, or you may not get the chance to cry at all.