The reality seems to be sinking in for the likely Republican nominee, but the moment is less triumphant than precarious.
ROCHESTER, N.H. -- W. Mitt Romney stands on the brink of his world-historical moment.
All but assured of a glide path to the Republican presidential nomination after Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, Romney has begun to openly contemplate the import of what he is about to achieve.
"I have to tell you, this chance to run for president of the United States," he said at a campaign rally here Sunday afternoon in what appeared to be an impromptu detour from his stump speech.
"I never imagined I'd do it," he continued. "I mean, this is just a very strange and unusual thing to be in the middle of. I was just a high school kid like everybody else, with skinny legs."
It was tempting to dismiss this throwaway line as the sort of "pious baloney" for which Newt Gingrich had so pitch-perfectly mocked Romney just hours before. But who, in Romney's loafers, would not be having approximately the same thought? Becoming the major-party nominee for leader of the free world would be a major crossroads in anyone's life, even someone who's been the governor of a state and a zillionaire CEO.
There can be little doubt it is all about to fall into place for Romney. Oh, sure, he still has five competitors trying their best to keep him on his toes, and they will do their best to bring down his winning margin in New Hampshire and derail him on the unpredictable turf of South Carolina, which holds its primary next, on January 21.
But no non-incumbent Republican candidate has ever won both Iowa and New Hampshire; Romney is poised to do that, and could well sweep South Carolina, too.
Even if one of those dominoes fails to fall, his campaign -- a cheerful, efficient operation -- is built for the long haul and the remote contingency, ready if need be to slog it out to the California primary in June.
"The Romney camp has always assumed something will happen down the road -- a surprise, an upset, something unexpected," a senior Romney campaign official said. "This campaign is built to withstand any of that."
Yet the paradox of Romney is that at the very moment his primary victory seems assured, he seems more precarious than triumphant -- flashing back to when he was a skinny-legged high schooler, flashing forward to his current position on the brink of the improbable. It is still not easy to conjure the mental picture of him accepting his party's nomination, much less being inaugurated president. The prize is both within his grasp and tantalizingly unrealized.
Romney's scriptedness and lack of apparent human qualities have been so widely noted that one begins to feel sorry for the man, who keeps having to answer frankly rude questions about why he isn't warmer. But on Sunday, he appeared to be considering the place in history that, having eluded his revered father, will finally, after so many years of scraping and clawing, accrue to him.
He had gathered his family around him -- his wife Ann, three of their five boys, two daughters-in-law and five of his 15 grandchildren. He stood in an ornate old opera house in this southeastern New Hampshire town, rows of supporters sitting behind him in front of an enormous American flag. A former rival, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, and a local political celebrity, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, introduced him, jointly symbolizing his anointment-in-progress. As he often does, Romney handed the microphone for a bit to Ann, a stately multiple sclerosis survivor who has an earthiness her husband lacks.
"We are going to get across that finish line on Tuesday!" she said, adding, "You know, Mitt's been successful at everything he has done."
Ayotte, in an interview afterward, said Romney draws energy from the crowds and from having his family with him. "I think he's feeling very good," she said.
Romney's speeches at this point in the campaign are nearly all pabulum, an attempt to avoid embarrassment or offense by saying almost nothing at all. This just in: He doesn't agree with the president, whom he believes to be well-intentioned but clueless, particularly on economics. He is concerned that the country not be taken in a European, anti-capitalist direction, preferring free enterprise.
"There's nothing wrong with spending your entire life in politics, but it's kind of a bubble," said Romney, who has been traveling on private airplanes and a bus with his name on it, and sleeping in hotels, for weeks straight. "And outside that bubble is where I lived my first, I don't know, 25, 30, 40 years of my career."
Romney said he had learned from signing both sides of a paycheck and worrying over a payroll and budget. "A couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip," he ventured -- immediately prompting the New York Times to demand proof that he'd ever actually experienced such a fear.
Romney's speech ends with a recitation that is both utterly weird and radically inoffensive, the parsing of obscure back verses of "America the Beautiful." He makes a literally conservative appeal, saying that he does not want to change or shake things up, as so many candidates vow to do: "I don't want to fundamentally transform America," he says. "I will restore America."
The crowd of a few hundred people filed out in orderly fashion. As usual with Romney's large, polite crowds, interviews revealed them to be by and large supportive without being passionate. "He's the best of what we have," shrugged Nancy Corning, 65, of Dover, a semi-retired education professor who plans to vote for Romney on Tuesday. In addition, many were from over the border in Massachusetts, and some said they might support other candidates in the primary less than two days away.
No one cries at Romney's speeches. Men do not pump their fists; women do not get stars in their eyes. For a politician, he is called upon to kiss remarkably few babies, and the people who seek his autograph are more often autograph collectors than Romney fetishists.
But none of that will matter when, in the coming weeks, the other candidates' mathematical prospects begin to dwindle and they start getting hounded to explain what they're still doing in the race.
Romney's New Hampshire adviser Tom Rath shrugged at all the angst about the candidate. The passion of the Republican electorate, he said, will follow its votes.
"People talk about the head following the heart," he said. "I think, in this case, the heart will follow the head."
The Republican front-runner’s repetition of a blatantly ridiculous story about Ted Cruz’s father shows his symbiotic relationship with the press.
Brace yourselves for shock, but Donald Trump said something ridiculous and baseless Tuesday morning. The subject was Rafael Cruz, Cuban-born father of his primary remaining rival, Senator Ted Cruz.
“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's being—you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous,” Trump said during a phone interview with Fox News. “What is this, right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. I mean, they don't even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it.”
Let’s clear a few things up: It has been reported, which is why Trump knows about it, but it was reported in the National Enquirer. Also there is no evidence for it; it’s bogus. Yes, the National Enquirer has been right about some things in the past, most notably John Edwards’s affair; no, that does not prove that it is right about this.
A claymation video with a grim plot line accompanies a blessedly straightforward if nerve-wracking tune.
Radiohead’s music often works like a puzzle, and it’s not clear whether many people ever solved the one posed by their 2011 album, The King of Limbs, whose funereal swirl only fleetingly provided the beauty and pop payoff that defined the band’s previous work.
Today’s new Radiohead song, “Burn the Witch,” blessedly does not hide its power. Sonically novel yet viscerally moving, gorgeous yet terrifying, it is the sound of Radiohead returning to do what it exists to do. The video is a claymation retelling of The Wicker Man, in which a police officer arrives at a town that is—spoiler alert!—secretly preparing to burn him in a ritual sacrifice. Thom Yorke’s lyrics speak of the kind of mass action and complacency that allows such a crime and, the logic probably goes, many other cruelties committed by societies.
Rampant drug use in Austin, Indiana—coupled with unemployment and poor living conditions—brought on a public-health crisis that some are calling a “syndemic.”
Jessica and Darren McIntosh were too busy to see me when I arrived at their house one Sunday morning. When I returned later, I learned what they’d been busy with: arguing with a family member, also an addict, about a single pill of prescription painkiller she’d lost, and injecting meth to get by in its absence. Jessica, 30, and Darren, 24, were children when they started using drugs. Darren smoked his first joint when he was 12 and quickly moved on to snorting pills. “By the time I was 13, I was a full-blown pill addict, and I have been ever since,” he said. By age 14, he’d quit school. When I asked where his caregivers were when he started using drugs, he laughed. “They’re the ones that was giving them to me,” he alleged. “They’re pill addicts, too.”
Journalists and policy makers can have a hard time describing the economy when “average” departs so markedly from what's normal.
There is an easy story to tell about the Obama Recovery. Devastated by a financial crash, the U.S. launched a historic comeback. The private sector added jobs in 73 consecutive months, the longest stretch ever. Unemployment is lower today than in the month Reagan left office. Real GDP has grown more than 13 percent since its most-recent low in 2009, Obama’s first year in office. That’s more than twice as much growth as in some western European countries, like France. Compared to how countries typically perform after financial crises, the United States has “probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history,” President Obama toldThe New York Times Magazine.
But there is an opposite story that is attracting widespread support and millions of votes: The recovery is a failure. Donald Trump is an IMAX projection of white working-class grievances, calling America “a third-world country.” Bernie Sanders’s supporters describe a country where poverty and financial insecurity are not bugs but rather features of a rigged economy. The pessimistic style is not niche: Trump and Sanders have amassed a combined 16 million votes.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
The billionaire’s bid for the nomination was opposed by many insiders—but his success reveals the ascendance of other elements of the party coalition.
In The Party Decides, an influential book about how presidential nominees are selected, political scientists John Zaller, Hans Noel, David Karol, and Marty Cohen argue that despite reforms designed to wrest control of the process from insiders at smoke-filled nominating conventions, political parties still exert tremendous influence on who makes it to general elections. They do so partly through “invisible primaries,” the authors posited—think of how the Republican establishment coalesced around George W. Bush in 2000, long before any ballots were cast, presenting him as a fait accompli to voters who’d scarcely started to think about the election; or how insider Democrats elevated Hillary Clinton this election cycle.
The comedian's n-bomb at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner highlights a generational shift in black culture.
Georgia McDowell was born the daughter of farmers and teachers in North Carolina in 1902. She was my great-grandmother, and she taught me to read, despite the dementia that clouded her mind and the dyslexia that interrupted mine. I loved Miss Georgia, though she kept as many hard lines in her home as she had in her classrooms. One of the hardest lines was common to many black households: The word “nigger” and all of its derivatives were strict taboos in person, on television, and on radio from any source, black or otherwise, so long as she lived and breathed. She’d kept the taboo through decades of teaching black students and raising black children. For most of my childhood, the taboo was absolute.
The event is everything awesome about fashion, stripped of the shame.
The red carpet as a concept stretches back, as far as we know today, to 458 B.C. In the Aeschylus play Agamemnon, the hero of the Trojan War returns home to find that his wife has rolled out a crimson carpet for him to walk upon—a visual celebration of his wartime escapades. Agamemnon, however, resists stepping on “these tinted splendors”: The carpet is the walkway of the gods, he explains, and he—“a man, a mortal”—cannot claim such a luxury for himself.
The red carpet of today, pranced upon by gods of a distinctly mortal variety, knows no such modesty. On the contrary: It has become its own kind of war zone, one that demands that those who walk upon it slay, and kill it, and otherwise win. One in which the work of unseen strategists—designers; stylists; publicists; manicurists; facialists—is finally put to the test of battle. The red carpet is a Darwinian competition that has also, in the manner of the circuses of the ancients, become a form of public spectacle.
For some, abandoning expensive urban centers would be a huge financial relief.
Neal Gabler has been a formative writer for me: His Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity was one of the books that led me to think about leaving scholarship behind and write nonfiction instead, and Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination was the first book I reviewed as a freelance writer. To me, he exemplifies the best mix of intensive archival research and narrative kick.
So reading his recent essay, "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans," was a gut punch: First, I learned about a role model of mine whose talent, in my opinion, should preclude him from financial woes. And, then, I was socked by narcissistic outrage: I, too, struggle with money! I, too, am a failing middle-class American! I, too, am a writer of nonfiction who should be better compensated!