Mitt Romney appeared strangely agitated in his interview with Fox News host Bret Baier on Tuesday. Romney had won praise earlier in the campaign for his calmness. But the calmness has given way under campaign pressures to open irritation. He testily brushed off Baier's blameless questions as "unusual." Baier isn't exactly Martin Bashir, yet Romney felt the need to treat him like a particularly hostile questioner. Romney hasn't been this agitated since he grabbed at Rick Perry's shoulder.
Behaving like a thin-skinned pol didn't lend any credence to Romney's claim during the interview that he is the refreshing outsider in the race. Newt Gingrich is a "good man," Romney said, then implied in the next breath that the former Speaker of the House is a crooked beltway insider. Newt is a "lifelong politician" who comes from a different "background," Romney continued, as if the taint of D.C. politics is somehow worse than the taint of liberal Massachusetts politics. Playing the purist is a bold and novel tack for a former governor whose political career has been largely defined by useful compromises.
Asked about his stance on deporting illegal immigrants, Romney just evaded the question, even as he suggested Gingrich is wrong to oppose it for settled ones. Romney did say that they should go to the "back of the line" but didn't spell out where the line would start.
Annoyed at the charge that he lacks core convictions, Romney advertised his strongest wrong-headed one -- that the wisdom of Romneycare shouldn't be questioned. He is very proud of it. Yet coexisting with this pride is his implausible insistence that he wouldn't want it imposed on any other state and that he never held it out as a "model" to anyone. (Baier was scolded for suggesting that too.)
Romney's frustration with Baier was no doubt a projection of his frustration with conservative primary voters who remain unimpressed by him despite slim offerings elsewhere in the GOP field. Romney upbraided Baier for going down a list of his flip-flops and attempted to correct him in a patronizing manner -- "We" need better information, he admonished Baier. Baier had said nothing inaccurate. If anything, his list could have been expanded. Romney accused Baier of listening to "snippets" of Democratic ads. Romney dismissed his reversals on issues like abortion as the standard evolution of any worthy leader, generously placing himself in the company of Ronald Reagan.
Romney sat down for the interview in Florida. Maybe his perturbed state had been caused by seeing Gingrich's latest poll numbers there. Herman Cain's implosion has helped Gingrich to surge in Florida in at least one poll.
Cain had won the Florida caucus but it appears that the steady wind of scandal around him has pushed some of his supporters to Gingrich. "Newt Gingrich is the current favorite in Florida's Jan. 31 Republican presidential primary, picking up supporters who fled Herman Cain to claim 41 percent in a poll conducted Tuesday night for The Florida Times-Union," reports that newspaper. "Gingrich has as much support as the next four candidates combined in the telephone survey of 513 registered voters who say they're likely to cast ballots in the primary. The poll, conducted by InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research, has a margin of error of 4 percent."
It looks like a denied affair rather than charges of sexual harassment and assault will finally finish off Cain's campaign. Next to Cain's interview with Fox News this week, perhaps Romney's doesn't look so bad. On Wednesday Cain told Neil Cavuto with his usual bombast that there was nothing suspicious about his frequent texting/calling and payments to Ginger White. He has called/texted lots of people "61" times. Moreover, his attorney Lin Wood will be "evaluating" the early-morning texts, he said. In the meantime, he is "reassessing" his campaign.
The personally upstanding Romney must find his inability to break away from this flawed field very annoying. Not even his assumed victory in New Hampshire is sewn up yet, where another recent poll shows Gingrich's numbers climbing. As Romney put it to Baier in the hopes of quieting a question about his flip-flopping character, voters have a choice before them of a person who "has devoted his life to his faith, to his family, and to his country." As if it were that simple.