Getting to know them

That catchy little tune from "The King and I" that trumpets the virtues of "getting to know you, getting to know all about you" hasn't seemed to work out too well for the Republican Partythis year. Even after 20 or more televised debates among its presidential candidates, the voters seem to have learned more about why they don't care for them than why they do.

From a starting gate of nine competitors, five have been driven from the race: Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry. The four survivors heading into Super Tuesday -- Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich -- all seem to have restraining weights around their necks.


For Mr. Romney, it's his seeming inauthenticity. Try as he might, he can't shake his noblesse oblige persona that keeps him from connecting with Joe Six-pack and the middle class to which he so clearly doesn't belong -- a fact of which he keeps reminding the hoi polloi.

For Mr. Santorum, it's his holier-and-truer-conservative-than-thou attitude, accompanied lately by an unattractive sneer, that narrows his appeal and even scares the hell out of many voters who don't share his absolutist views.


For Mr. Gingrich, it's his endless know-it-all posturing, sense of self-importance and grandiosity that, as Mr. Santorum might say, makes you want to throw up. As for Mr. Paul, his isolationism to the extreme and his stylistic wackiness limit his electability despite his appeal to the young and idealistic.

So what the GOP has served up to Main Street America has been a bouillabaisse of hard-to-digest ingredients. If Churchill were still around, he might say it has no theme. The one thing all four survivors agree on is that President Barack Obama has failed to achieve recovery from the economic mess their previous, unmentioned and unmentionable president left behind, and therefore he must go.

This platform for assuring Mr. Obama's one-term presidency seemed a solid winning strategy until the economy started to wake up from the deep recession. With high unemployment finally showing slight signs of easing, and the stock market bouncing back, this Republican formula for getting rid of him doesn't look quite as dependable now.

As the principal candidate running as Mr. Fix-it on the economy, Mr. Romney's repetitive recitation of his business credentials has become boring, even counterproductive. The details of his methods, labeled "vulture capitalism" by Mr. Perry, have been aired in the serial debates, reinforcing his ties to Wall Street and country club America.

As the early frontrunner, Mr. Romney's wealth and how he got it became the obvious target of the other candidates, eventually diverting their fire from Mr. Obama and toward Mr. Romney. With his huge money advantage over the pack, he fired back, and the result has been the intramural mudslinging that has tarnished the lot of them.

Mr. Romney's greater financial resources, both in direct campaign fundraising and from the "independent" super PAC run by former aides, should provide him an edge in the 10 contests Tuesday and other state contests to follow. But if his three remaining challengers can scrape up enough money to stay in the race, Mr. Romney's slog to the nomination may come at a debilitating price.

As the campaign pivots from momentum-building primary and caucus victories to actual accumulation of delegates, the assumption now is that Mr. Romney will reach the 1,144 majority sooner or later, ruling out notions of a brokered convention. The idea is that once Messrs. Santorum, Gingrich and Paul face the inevitable, they will release the delegates they've won.

But what if Mr. Romney falls short, the others stay in the race and all hold onto their delegates? After all the bitterness and sniping of a further drawn-out Republican fight in the weeks ahead, what's to prevent another "smoke-filled room" like the one in 1920 that led to Warren G. Harding being picked on the 10th ballot?


In 1952,Dwight D. Eisenhowerwas nine votes short of a majority on the first roll call. Switches of 250 more votes immediately afterward gave him the nomination. But Ike was Ike, and Mitt is Mitt. There's enough uncertainty about Mr. Romney in the party that it's wise to never say never about what might happen.

Jules Witcover's latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is