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."
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
Curfews, sports, and understanding kids’ brain chemistry have all helped dramatically curb substance abuse in the country.
It’s a little before 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon and Laugardalur Park, near central Reykjavik, looks practically deserted. There’s an occasional adult with a stroller, but the park’s surrounded by apartment blocks and houses, and school’s out—so where are all the kids?
Walking with me are Gudberg Jónsson, a local psychologist, and Harvey Milkman, an American psychology professor who teaches for part of the year at Reykjavik University. Twenty years ago, says Gudberg, Icelandic teens were among the heaviest-drinking youths in Europe. “You couldn’t walk the streets in downtown Reykjavik on a Friday night because it felt unsafe,” adds Milkman. “There were hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk.”
More clues that the Facebook founder is eyeing a run for office
There’s a long-running theory that Mark Zuckerberg has presidential aspirations. It makes sense to wonder. After all, if the civically engaged and ambitious billionaire leader of the most powerful media company on the planet wanted to take on a new challenge, why not try running a country? It’s not like he has many other opportunities for a promotion.
But only in recent weeks has a Zuckerberg run for the American presidency started to seem like a legitimate possibility. First there was his personal challenge for 2017: Zuckerberg’s aiming to visit and meet with people in all 50 states by the end of the year.
And not just that, but he framed the exercise in a way that sounds, well, political: “Going into this challenge, it seems we are at a turning point in history,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone.”
In the age of the digital hermit, a psychologist explains what it means to avoid other people—and what to do about it.
People today might not actually be avoiding social interaction any more than they did in past decades, but they’re certainly more vocal about it. The rise of digital communication seems to be spawning a nation of indoor cats, all humble-bragging about how introverted they are and ordering their rides and groceries without ever talking to a human.
Sometimes reclusiveness can be a sign of something more serious, though. Social anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, but it’s still poorly understood outside of scientific circles. The good news is that it’s highly treatable, according to Stefan G. Hofmann, the director of the Social Anxiety Program at Boston University.
I recently talked with Hofmann about how social anxiety works and what people who feel socially anxious can do about it. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
William Jennings Bryan, the populist presidential hopeful, warned of an “epidemic of fake news” in his day.
Fake news is everywhere. The power of the press is said to be waning. And because the nation’s most famous populist—the man with his sights on the presidency—can’t trust the lying media, he says, he has no option but to be a publisher himself.
Oh yeah, and the year is 1896.
The would-be president in question is William Jennings Bryan. In an era before the internet, television, or radio, the best way to reach the masses is with newsprint. So, without the option of tweeting his grievances after losing the election to William McKinley, what does Bryan do? He starts his own newspaper. And he uses it to rail against “fake news.”
I don’t need to tell you a lot of this sounds weirdly familiar.
“There seems to be an epidemic of fake news from the city of Lincoln, [Nebraska], and it all comes from Mr. Bryan’s ‘friends’—names not given,” Bryan’s newspaper, The Commoner,wrote in 1907. “It would seem unnecessary to deny reports sent out to which no name was attached, and yet it has been necessary to send a number of telegrams to notify other papers that the report was unauthorized … As Mr. Bryan has a paper—The Commoner—through which he speaks every week, and as he is speaking often and giving out interviews frequently, a newspaper ought to view with suspicion any report sent out from Lincoln or anywhere else purporting to state what Mr. Bryan thinks or intends to do.” (In this case, the issue at hand was Bryan’s stance against a third term for Teddy Roosevelt, which some papers had apparently questioned.)
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
“We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” proclaimed Donald Trump in April. On the eve of his inauguration as president of the United States, he can already declare victory. There are major foreign-policy issues about which Trump has generated huge uncertainty by flatly contradicting his own policy promises. He has mused that it might be good for U.S. allies to acquire nuclear weapons, and then sworn he never said that; he has promised to ban Muslim immigrants from the U.S., and then walked it back. But that’s just the beginning. Here are the top foreign-policy areas set to become more unpredictable.
7. The Iran Deal. Trump has promised to take a harder line on Iran as president, declaring the 2015 nuclear agreement the “worst deal ever negotiated.” But what exactly is he planning to do about it? Last year, in a speech to an anti-Iran crowd at AIPAC, he declared, “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” But that threat directly contradicts his prior statements that “we have to live with” the deal. “I know it would be very popular for me to do what a couple of ‘em said—‘we’re gonna rip it up.’” But, he continued, “we have an agreement.” Instead, he promised, “I will police that deal.” His latest statement? “I don’t want to say what I’m gonna do with the Iran deal.”
Without any of his key appointees confirmed by the Senate, the incoming president has turned to existing officials to help smooth the transition.
Donald Rumsfeld is not joining the Trump administration, but one of his most famous rules is: “You go to war with the Army you have—not the Army you might wish you have.” Or the secretary of the Army, as the case might be.
With the process of vetting and appointing, to say nothing of confirming, executive-branch officials well behind the optimal pace, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a briefing on Thursday that “over 50” members of the Obama administration will temporarily remain in their posts to help smooth the transition to the Trump administration.
Spicer did not name all of the officials, nor did he indicate whether others had been asked and declined to stay on. A message to the Trump transition team, asking for a full list, has not been answered. Reuters reported Thursday afternoon that some individuals on a list, dated Tuesday, of appointees being asked to stay on had declined to do so, including the principal deputy director of national intelligence, an undersecretary of state, and an assistant secretary of state.
How the vice president spent a few of his closing days in office
When I boarded Air Force Two for Vice President Joe Biden’s final overseas mission, he had four days left in office. His leverage was diminishing by the hour, with every new question at a Trump nominee confirmation hearing, with every new @RealDonaldTrump tweet.
There was no chance of a miracle at that point, a few days away from Vice President-elect Mike Pence getting Biden’s keys to Air Force Two—to somehow rid Ukraine of its debilitating corruption, pull off a Cyprus deal, or stand between Kosovo and Serbia and neutralize the tension between them for good. It’s hard to shame Russian President Vladimir Putin or to inspire him to spiff up his behavior if the president-elect seems to accept Putin just as he is. And of course, there’s Iraq.
An extremely comprehensive guide to the ceremonies—and the festivities—of the United States’s 58th presidential inauguration
When George Washington was inaugurated, in late April of 1789, his aides had to scramble, right before his swearing-in ceremony began, to find a Bible on which he could take the oath of office. It hadn’t occurred to any of them, as they’d been planning the event, that they’d need one. Washington and his fellow founders were winging it. They knew, though—or, at least, they hoped—that they were, in imagining the installation of a man who would be the nation’s chief executive rather than its king, establishing a ceremony that would be repeated many, many times again.
Their hope was realized. The inauguration of a new American president is now a matter of ritual, honed by centuries of trial and error, its details—pomp, circumstance, just a smidge more pomp for good measure—planned down to the second. Each inaugural exercise is attuned to the man who is stepping into office; each one, though, even more importantly—even more symbolically—is the stuff of shared ceremony, a ritualized version of what George Washington would learn after he took his oath (on a Bible that was borrowed, finally, from a Masonic lodge): When you become the American president, your life is no longer, fully, your own. People may serve at your pleasure; you serve, however, at the pleasure of the people. So while the inauguration is a celebration of the new president, it is also a step-by-step ceremony of conversion: It is a man, and his family, shedding the life they have known for the one they have chosen.