Here's Mitt Romney in a nutshell: During a town-hall event at a chapel in Merrimack, New Hampshire, some stammering yahoo in the back row gets up and asks the slick Mormon venture capitalist just exactly what he means when he says he plans to "change the face of the Middle East."
"I want to know where you stand on that," the yutz pleads. "Your answer will determine whether I want to vote for you."
Romney smiles, humbly accepting the challenge. When it comes to the satanic art of presidential campaigning, this lean, heavily moussed political athlete is a stone prodigy, a natural who glides through campaign events with the aid of some dark supernatural power — a tie-clad, sweat-resistant cross of Roy Hobbs and Rosemary's Baby. As he ponders the question about the Middle East, you can almost see the Terminator display screen behind his eyes, calibrating to the hundredth of a centimeter the exact distance to his questioner and quickly selecting from a prefab list of responses.
"Well," Romney says sunnily. "What I'd like to see is, I'd like to see a Palestinian state at peace, where Israel and Palestine are at peace."
Nods of approval in the front row. Peace between Israel and Palestine, what a great idea! How about a cure for cancer, water for the world's deserts, more girls in bars who will say "yes"?
"And what I'd like to see," continues Romney, pointing a finger for emphasis — no other GOP candidate makes more diligent use of the basic tenets of public speaking, from the constant use of animated hand gestures for rhetorical emphasis to the rigid maintenance of direct eye contact with his questioners — "what I'd like to see is Muslims carry the key role in rejecting violent jihadism."
More murmurs of assent. Hell, that sounds great too — let's get Muslims to reject jihadism! That way, we don't have to do it for them! Why haven't the other candidates thought of that?
One is tempted to laugh at this stuff, but in fact there's nothing funny about any of it. For this is the great strength of Mitt Romney: When the former governor of Massachusetts and current Republican front-runner in Iowa is on his game, voters walk out of his campaign events thinking he's the candidate of blue sky and sunshine, of cute newborn puppies, of the crack of the bat in spring training, of the first bite of a warm oatmeal cookie. The most common thing you hear from voters after a Romney event is how impressed they are by his demeanor and delivery, his obvious vitality, by the fact that he looks like he could do this twenty-four hours a day and twice on Sunday, taking off only twenty-six minutes once a week to make monogamous, missionary-position love to his baby-factory wife. And that's precisely the way Romney wants it: He wants voters focused on him the man , this unblemished, in-control Example for All who, unlike his Republican rivals, is in no danger of collapsing onstage, or getting caught on camera with his cock in some bruisecovered stripper or Jack Russell terrier.
"I'll set an example," he tells his New Hampshire audience. "I believe in people going to church, I believe in people being faithful to one's spouse, I believe in kids and I believe in families."
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