Why Romney's Relationship With GOP Voters Is Like an Arranged Marriage

They may have flirted with other, spicier candidates, but Republican voters will return to the one who is stable, reasonable, and thoroughly unexciting.

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Other than the losing candidates themselves, the people unhappiest with the Iowa results must be journalists and Democrats.

Journalists for the simple and obvious reason that a fierce battle is a lot more interesting to watch, and to write about, than a triumphal march. And Democrats because, even though Mitt Romney didn't emerge from the caucuses entirely unscathed, what he suffered was, as they used to say in old cowboy movies, "just a flesh wound." And since Democrats know Romney is the most dangerous -- arguably the only dangerous -- Republican presidential candidate in the field, they would like to have seen him injured far more grievously than actually occurred. An eight-vote win isn't much of a win (his margin of victory was even narrower than Al Gore's in the 2000 presidential election), but no one can call it a defeat.

Perhaps the best way to think about Republican primary voters this year is to imagine them as the bride in an arranged marriage. Her parents have chosen well for her, better than she had any right to expect; she has no grounds for complaint and knows it. The groom they have found for her is responsible, decent, reliable, a good provider, and even very handsome. But he just doesn't excite her. There's nothing about him that makes her heart beat faster. When she contemplates a future being wedded to him, something inside her shrivels up and dies.

So in the months before the marriage she goes a little crazy. Spends her nights at the bars in a bad section of town. Lets inappropriate strangers buy her drinks, and goes home with more than a few of them. Deep in her heart, she knows her behavior isn't merely ill advised, it's foolhardy. These guys (and even one woman!) won't make her happy even for a night, let alone a lifetime. They're all wrong, and some of them are even a little nuts. But they're dashing and dangerous and transgressive, and she's in that heedless mood where she just doesn't give a damn. By morning, she always realizes she's made a dreadful mistake. But that's desperation for you: She doesn't want to be reasonable, she wants to rebel. And this is looking like her last chance. Of course, on some level, she's aware she's going to be marching down the aisle with Mr. Sensible soon enough.

For those of us watching this matrimonial crisis closely, the only question remaining prior to Iowa was whether there was time for one more folly before she came to her senses. We knew the identity of the one guy on a bar stool she hadn't hooked up with, we just didn't know if she'd have an opportunity to plant herself on the back of his Harley before reality set in. Well, as became evident in the last week before the Republicans caucused, the answer was yes.

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Erik Tarloff is a novelist, screenwriter, and journalist.

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