Ann Romney's exasperated response to an Iowa radio host yesterday was the truest glimpse we've seen of any of the national-level candidates or their spouses this year.
It was also sad, and potentially quite damaging. It's hardly sporting to identify extra problems for the Romney campaign right now, but this one is different from the others and worth examination.
Mrs. Romney's comments were absolutely true. If you missed it (audio link here), this was the moment-of-truth part:
During an interview early this evening with Radio Iowa, Mrs. Romney directly addressed her fellow Republicans who've criticized her husband.
"Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring,"
I have seen candidates and campaigns from various perspectives, and the more I see the more I marvel at anyone's willingness to undergo this process. Here's the best way for normal people to imagine it -- quite apart from the fatigue, the need always to be "on," and the need endlessly to be asking for money. Normal people get upset if even one person, let alone a group of them, really has it in for us. Whoever wins the presidential election will know, and must be at peace with, the reality that many tens of millions of people truly think he's an anti-American phony and wish him ill. Such is political victory!
True as it might have been, Mrs. Romney's "break" was also sad and damaging. Self-pity is doom for candidates. They're asking for the honor of representing and leading us. We expect them to act as if it's a privilege, not a burden. Worse, an admission like this is a tell. Winning campaigns never allow themselves to seem frazzled or put-upon. And Mitt Romney himself has not, or not very much.
It's damaging in one more way, which I'm convinced has an effect even if most voters don't consciously focus on it. We're considering someone for a big, tough job. And if that person or those around him buckle under the stress of campaigning, how will they do in office? People who have worked in politics know for sure something that most other people probably sense. Running for president is hard, but there is one thing harder. That's what happens if you win.
And points off for anyone who thought from the headline that this was going to be about Jill Biden.