With the Iowa caucuses just about a month away, the Republican presidential race finally has some life in it.
For months, the conversation about the contest has gone something like this:
"Well, we've got Mitt, who's been running for 4 years, so I guess it's his turn. But I don't know. I don't really trust him. He doesn't seem to have any core convictions. And RomneyCare. Oy! That neutralizes one of our main lines of attack against Obama: that government-run health care is a nightmarish power grab which we cannot afford. Mitt's not helping himself by refusing to drop RomneyCare like it's hot. That, I suppose, would be one flip-flop too many. Of course, a flip-flop on RomneyCare is the one flip-flop we'd actually welcome. So, Mitt. Sigh.
"Who else is out there? Oooohh! Michele Bachmann! She's a solid conservative and a gutsy pol. But can she win? It's tough for women, as Hillary discovered. Steeper climb. And what's with her gaffes? Everybody makes mistakes, but women in the race need to make fewer of them to avoid looking airy. She's not airy, but there is a double standard. Let's see...Ooohhh! Rick Perry! Smart, good economic record in Texas, looks the part. But the debates....D'oh! Deer in the headlights. Sorry, but this election is too significant. We're not going to send this guy into a debate with Barack Obama, he of the silver tongue. Oooohhh! Herman Cain! He's shiny and new. Successful businessman, solid free marketeer, refreshing. But what's with all the women? If all of these allegations are false, where does he go to get his reputation back? I feel for him. But he's so distracted now that he can't focus on his message. He had some policy weaknesses before all of this crud hit the fan, but now? Well, we're not going to send him into a debate with Barack Obama, either.
"Which leaves us with Mitt...sigh....and oooohhh! What's this? Newt Gingrich?! He's not shiny and new. He's had some personal controversies. He's been undisciplined and all over the map over the past 20 years. But man, the cat knows how to debate! He would cream Obama in a debate just by shooting him a glare. Then he'd back up the glare with a full-throated advocacy of conservative principles and policies, he'd smash Obama's leftist ideology and give voters a true choice between Obama's failed socialist experiment and limited government, free market solutions. Newt. I can't believe it. But I'm starting to believe it."
Mitt has his work cut out for him. For the first time, he's started to show a bit of panic onstage during the debates and in interviews. When Perry entered the race, he was worried but didn't show it, because he still believed he was the smartest guy there. At that point, Newt was an also-ran. But no longer. And no longer is Mitt the smartest guy in the race. He's sounding more defensive and looking more easily shaken. His confidence may be undermined. Remember that old ad that said, "Never let them see you sweat?" Mitt's letting us see him sweat. In a way, it's good---competition makes all the players better candidates, and better prepared to take on Obama next year. Perry's entry made Mitt a better candidate. But Newt's rise seems to be having the opposite effect on him. While everyone is focused on if Newt can hold up, I think the more interesting question is if Mitt can hold up.
Newt. Who'd a thunk it?
Sometimes the man meets the moment and the moment meets the man. We know what the moment is. Let's see which man rises---and stays---to meet it.