Republicans are a funny bunch. They tend to give their presidential nomination to the man whose turn it is (often a candidate who has lost a previous race) but only after kicking him around a bit.
The hazing of Mitt Romney is thus, in a way, just part of the anointing. True, the hazing is getting rougher as the actual voting approaches; the rise of Newt Gingrich, which was sanctified on Sunday by the endorsement of the Manchester Union-Leader, is now Romney’s most significant challenge. Yet no Republican nominee has succeeded in recent times without being dinged early on.
Ronald Reagan lost to Gerald Ford in 1976 and lost Iowa to George H.W. Bush in 1980 before triumphing in New Hampshire. In 1988 Bush lost Iowa to Bob Dole before settling down to victory. Pat Buchanan harassed Dole in 1996, and John McCain crushed George W. Bush in New Hampshire in 2000. McCain lost Iowa to Mike Huckabee in 2008. Romney failed in that race too, so he has checked the box of a previous run. His current troubles are also part of the drill.
Nobody — particularly competitive souls like politicians — likes losing, but campaigns are like baseball seasons: defeat and bad days are just part of the nature of things. What matters most at such hours is not whether you have a rough patch — everyone does — but how you deal with it. That’s why the Gingrich surge is important for Romney, and for all of us: to see how Romney handles adversity. Now’s the time to show us.