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Posted at 12:22 AM ET, 02/29/2012

Strange, awkward evening as Romney beats Santorum in Michigan, Arizona


Awww yeah... (Joe Raedle)
Ah, election night, when Americans gather around the television to watch a map take an inexplicably long time to download.

Mitt Romney almost immediately won the state of Arizona, which everyone promptly ignored because this sort of decisive victory does not make for very exciting news, concentrating instead on Michigan, a state where Mitt grew up and formed his notions of the correct height of trees. There, for a while, it seemed close. But as the results came in, Romney quickly established a lead, and then it was all over but the concession speeches.

Those speeches were a good encapsulation of how weird this race has become.

What was Rick Santorum saying? What was Mitt Romney saying?

Who was that Michigan man yelling “I love you!” as Rick Santorum spoke?

Why was Ann Romney talking about how they’d been campaigning “from the tip of the Mitt,” as Romney tapped his head?

What was this?

First, Rick Santorum emerged and delivered a bewildering speech. All he ever wanted was to be noticed. “A month ago they didn’t know who we are,” he said, “but they do now.” Actually, a month ago, people were suggesting he might be the front-runner. They didn’t know better then. But they do now.

He said he had only one thing to say to the people of Michigan: “I love you back.”

This was when a man in the audience began yelling “I LOVE YOU” and Rick Santorum responded by chuckling and saying “Thanks. . . As I said, you’re getting to know me. Not exactly through the mediums that I’d hope.” Mediums such as — what? His own words, on television or on paper? Or crafty spiritualists, no doubt under contract to MSNBC?

It’s true that he’s come under harsh scrutiny during his short stint as the front-runner. For the first time in his life, people are actually paying attention to what he is saying. This is novel and alarming. The same shouts that get you noticed in the thick of the crowd and on the far-right podium echo strangely when you hold the microphone. After about a week of attempting to take most of Santorum’s wide-ranging and strongly-worded remarks seriously — phony theology, snobbery, and JFK-induced vomiting, to name a few — Michiganders grew weary and opted to vote for Mitt Romney — or, in a not entirely negligible number of cases, Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry.

Santorum seemed to have decided to clear the social waters by delivering a warm speech about his ninety-three year-old mother, who had multiple degrees (but wasn’t a snob) and served as a breadwinner throughout his childhood — “a professional who made more money than her husband.”

A strange silence ensued. Crowds accustomed to cheering loudly for the notion of professional women out-earning their husbands generally do not show up at Santorum rallies, and the audience seemed a bit stunned. They warmed as Santorum continued, saying it was “important to balance that work and family” and complaining about a government that wants the “smart and elite to manage us” rather than “free people . . . free economy . . . building America from the bottom up.”

He journeyed back into the American past, invoking the British regulars — “the uniforms were crisp and stiff” will go down as the Huh? Moment of the evening — and their contemptuous know-it-all attitude.

Then we went to Mitt Romney.

I am not saying that his speech was not the vibrant, lively address we have come to expect from him. It was, from his forehead up, where his hair was in fine form. Otherwise, I really made an effort to pay attention, but after Ann Romney thanked Kid Rock — who has finally run out of benefit concerts to inflict himself on and is now joining Donald Trump and other Dancing With The Stars rejects on Team Romney — it was all downhill.

Romney noted that he would supply us with “a real choice and a very different direction . . . more jobs, less debt, smaller government. . .” but then some paint was drying nearby and by comparison it was riveting and pulse-pounding. By the time I glanced back at the TV he was thanking “you guys” and hugging one of his sons — the good thing about Romney family planning, he noted, is that “we can cover almost every race” — and leaving the viewer with a single question.

What was all this?

It was strange and surreal. When I turned to Fox News later, Karl Rove was wearing a bandanna.

Maybe this was the dress run. Maybe it was all a dream. Now it’s on to Super Tuesday, and we’ll find out.

By  |  12:22 AM ET, 02/29/2012

 
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