Paul Begala on Mitt Romney’s Charmless Win in New Hampshire

Mitt Romney came out on top in New Hampshire, but he should have done far better against the hapless competition.

01.11.12 4:38 AM ET

You gotta hand it to the Mittbot 3.0. With all the charisma of a foreclosure agent and all the charm of a calculator, Mitt Romney rolled to a win in New Hampshire, a state in which one of Mitt’s many mansions sits—and right next door to Massachusetts.

Given those advantages, Romney looks weak even when he wins. Sure, he managed to surpass his 2008 total in New Hampshire (75,546 votes). But look at his competition this time! The field is so weak it would make a lame old plowhorse look like Secretariat. None of Romney’s opponents ran a significant number of negative ads against him in New Hampshire. It’s pretty easy to look bulletproof when your enemies are shooting blanks. Yes, Jon Huntsman ran a “comparative ad” that was weaker than baby’s pee. And, yes, Newt Gingrich body-slammed Romney in the Meet the Press debate, essentially calling him a liar and demanding he “cut the pious baloney.” But no one hit him right between the eyes with the kinds of ads Hillary and Barack used, let alone the carpet-bombing Romney’s allies used against Gingrich in Iowa.

Romney’s victory speech was a platter of platitudes. Turns out the Mittbot loves the Constitution, wants America to be a land of opportunity, and (you guessed it) “will never apologize for the United States of America.” His main line of attack was that President Obama wants to turn America into Europe. (Obama, he said, “wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society.”) Never mind that Romney is a poster child for entitlement. He is a millionaire CEO/governor/presidential candidate whose father was a millionaire CEO/governor/presidential candidate. And never mind that Romney has lived in Europe and Obama never has. (Romney even speaks French!) The Mittbot clearly thinks he has hit paydirt appealing to his party’s Eurosis.

Quirky, cranky Ron Paul at age 76 generated more enthusiasm shouting about monetary policy than Mitt did in his entire speech. Some of the cheers Paul was hearing, however, were likely coming from Romney’s strategists. The libertarian septuagenarian outpaced Huntsman, Gingrich, and Iowa flash-in-the-pan Rick Santorum. I can almost see Romney’s team rubbing their hands with an evil grin, muttering, “Excellent, excellent!” like Mr. Burns on The Simpsons. Team Romney would like nothing better than to go to South Carolina with the right divided between Gingrich, Santorum, and Perry—with none of them able to muster enough support to surpass Ron Paul.

Poor Jon Huntsman. He is intelligent and experienced, an original thinker—and a stone loser. He finished a respectable third in New Hampshire, but only after living there for months and relying heavily on the independent voters who made up half the electorate in the Live Free or Die State. Hard to see what his second act can be.

Now the campaign moves to South Carolina, the GOP’s heart of darkness. The concern there, always, is that slimy personal attacks will eclipse legitimate issue attacks. South Carolinians deserve better. Heck, Mitt Romney deserves better. All of us deserve a campaign that truly tests the mettle of a man who seems so plastic.