Streams

Opinion: It's Groundhog Day for Mitt and Newt

Thursday, February 02, 2012 - 11:38 AM

A big-shot from the big city wakes up in a small town where he needs to pretend to care for local customs, listen to the ramblings of the neighborhood natives and make the best of lousy weather, early mornings and diner cuisine.  The worst part: He needs to relive the same experience again and again and again.

You know it as Bill Murray's fate in Groundhog Day.  Mitt Romney calls it life on the campaign trail.

Mitt's doesn't have a lot in common without he voters whose approval he's desperately seeking, and at times he doesn't seem to like them very much.  But like Murray's snide and self-aggrandizing Phil Connors needs to live like the locals -- first by participating in their sacred small-town tradition and then through a "No Exit" fate to repeat this experience ad infinitum, ad absurdum and ad infinitum -- Mitt has no choice.

Mitt's not the only one trapped.  Newt enjoyed dominating the halls of power in Washington before he decided to run a campaign attacking that same city.  Rick Santorum acknowledged the wearying life of the candidate when he suddenly returned home last weekend to deal with family matters.  Ron Paul might be the only one who truly enjoys this since he has so many more admirers in his travels than he does collaborators in the chambers of Congress.  But all of them must feel a little like Murray, wondering when they finally get to escape this cycle.

The movie's not over yet -- at least not according to Gingrich and Paul who both recommitted to seeing this fight through to the convention.  They're happier to stay caught in this repetition since they suspect that when this adventure ends, they're not the ones ending up on top.  So more pancake breakfasts and Republican club speeches, more loud debates and louder Super PAC ads, more new revelations, new attacks, new heights of rhetoric are all on the horizon.

Romney might think that Florida signaled a break from the cycle: The clear winner, it restored him as frontrunner, led pundits to suggest Newt was down for the count, and he delivered a victory speech that was magnanimous toward his rivals as only a winner can be.

Sorry, Mitt.  Phil Connors was also tricked into thinking he'd escaped at least once.  But after you won Iowa, you were criticized for it being too close.  Then you won New Hampshire…and the story changed to you losing Iowa.  Then there was South Carolina, where you lost your front-runner status.  One state doesn't change the narrative -- "46 States to Go," as Gingrich's campaign reminded us in an effective and tedium-promising podium placard" -- it's just one more day in Punxsutawney and you're about to wake up to the same alarm clock again.

While the relatively quiet February primary schedule could hurt Newt's chance to regain Newmentum, it's also filled with caucuses where Romney may be less dominant, some states sure to reject him outright, and the chance to be humiliated with a less-than-slam-dunk in Michigan.  There are plenty of chances for Romney to realize he's still snowed in.

And for the rest of us -- well, we're in Punxsutawney with them.  We hear the same attacks on Obamacare, the same proposals to benefit the 1%, the same saber-rattling on Iran and fear-mongering on a supposed "War on religion" day in and day out.  In a way, we'll also be refreshed when we finally hear a new song on the radio.  In the meantime, though, many of us are enjoying the ride.  It's fun watching the pompous and preening protagonist stumble a little…even when he's not being played by Bill Murray.

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