Mitt Romney’s outing last weekend to watch The Hunger Games with his grandkids spurred snickering among the political media. In a Tuesday interview, Wolf Blitzer ribbed the governor about whether the violent flick was appropriate for such young children. Wednesday, Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski proclaimed Romney a “nerd,” while Scarborough flatly refused to believe the candidate had either seen the flick or read the book (“He did not!”), likening Mitt’s claims to his previously professed love of varmint hunting.
I get where Joe’s coming from, but come on: how could Romney not love the wildly popular tale of teens fighting to the death for the amusement of a blood-thirsty public? That’s basically been his life for the past several months. And at this point, the governor must be wondering whether it’s time to break out his bow and go all Katniss Everdeen on Newt and Rick.
Everyone knows the HG basics, right? In a post-apocalyptic society, a despotic central government forces teen “tributes” from 12 outlying districts to do battle in a sprawling, nightmarish biosphere of sorts. Twenty-four go in. One comes out—but only after the rest are slaughtered either by fellow combatants or by the lethal traps sprinkled about by Gamemakers to keep things interesting: mutated beasts, fireballs, poison vegetation, blizzards … There are no rules, and the carnage is, of course, televised.
You can see why the story naturally brings to mind the primary. Multiple combatants enter. Only one can emerge the victor. Along the way, candidates face hazards that include gaffes (Perry, Bachmann), scandal (Cain), staff upheaval (Bachmann, Gingrich), money shortages (Santorum, Gingrich), congenital blandness (Pawlenty), perceived nuttiness (Bachmann, Paul), and a complete inability to get anyone to notice they are in the game at all (Roemer, McCotter, Karger).
Once the battle proper begins (Cue Iowa!), most players don’t last long. But there are generally one or two scrappers who, no matter how badly wounded, refuse to die. This cycle, Santorum and, even more so, Gingrich have made clear their intent to limp along, inflicting as much damage as possible on what they see as an unworthy tribute.
How exactly to end this spectacle has proved a thorny question not just for Team Romney but also for a Republican leadership that’s grown weary of the public bloodbath.
The recent flood of pro-Romney endorsements by party elders hasn’t worked. Nor has high-minded talk about the need for unity. Various carrots and sticks are presumably being brandished behind the scenes (for instance, at Newt and Mitten’s secret sit-down Saturday), thus far to no avail. Unless you count Gingrich’s announcement Tuesday that he is shifting to a “big-choice convention” strategy. Tell me that doesn’t have trouble written all over it.
Some candidates might be able to pull off an above-the-fray statesman’s repose while their final opponents expire. Romney isn’t one of them. His position is too weak, his support too tenuous. Nobody liked him much to begin with, and all this slap-fighting has made him look even more unctuous and ineffectual. At this point, the Tribute from Massachusetts needs to take a breath, aim well, and—zing—put one through the enemy’s brainpan.
Not literally, of course. (Although, how awesome would it be to see Mittens decked out in leather hunting gear, shimmying up trees with a quiver of arrows strapped to his back?) But a figurative kill is in the party’s best interest as well as Mitt’s. Besting Santorum in Pennsylvania might take care of Rick, but Newt is beyond shaming and will need to be hit where he lives. You know the kind of thinly veiled brutality I’m talking about: nice little consulting business you’ve got there, shame if anything happened to it.
Of course, any Hunger Games fantasies Romney may harbor contain a fatal flaw: no way he’s Katniss. More than any of the combatants this cycle, the governor has “career tribute” written all over him—one of the privileged killing machines that hail from the rich, well-connected districts and train for battle their whole lives. Think Cato from District 2, only with more money and better hair.
Indeed, if anyone had a shot at the Katniss role, it would be Santorum: the scrappy underdog who entered the arena heavily outgunned and wound up charming the audience with his passion, ingenuity, and fierce will to survive. This is precisely the sort of inspirational, irresistible against-all-odds victory from which blockbuster fiction is made.
Republican nominees, not so much.