Mitt Romney is an Olympic preparer. He prepares for everything. Every possible eventuality is treated by him as if it were a strand of hair on his meticulously-coiffed head, placed just so with the utmost forethought and consideration.
Prepared to face off with any realistic candidate for the GOP nomination, he laid plans to beat former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. He wasn't even thrown off by the sudden and improbable prospect of facing Herman Cain. It was as if somewhere in the deep, preparing recesses of the Boy Scout's mind, he had planned to face a lovable pizza magnate from Georgia.
The one possibility, however, that was too ridiculous, too absurd, too unrealistic to even consider was that with just weeks to go before the first ballots are cast for the Republican nomination, Mr. Romney would be entangled in his toughest struggle to date — against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
But here we are, and now it is time to figure out which of these two uninspiring candidates to choose from — assuming we don't see a late surge by former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania or Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
In normal times, Mitt would be perfect. He looks and acts like the president from Central Casting. He is self-assured and predictable. He is steady and competent, almost never makes mistakes and has valuable business experience. Nobody would ever accuse this guy of launching a war to get back for something somebody once allegedly tried doing to his father.
Newt, on the other hand, runs on passion. He flies off after big ideas that border on the crazy. He makes terrible mistakes. He can be petty, petulant and is known for tantrums. You would believe it if somebody told you he had launched a secret mission into Africa to loot blood diamonds for his wife.
At home, the two men could not be more different. As Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention scolded, Newt must contend honestly with his "turbulent marital history" in order to win over evangelical voters, crucial in a GOP primary.
Mitt, meanwhile, is a poster boy of dorky familial bliss.
"When the whole family's together, we start with a big breakfast," he explained to Parade magazine about his ideal Sunday. "Ann makes batter for pancakes, and I flip them. Then we go to church for three hours. In the afternoon, we'll watch a football game, tell stories, wrestle, read, take walks."
Certainly not the Newt household. Or anyone else's. He wrestles with his grown boys?
But the problem for Mitt is that these are not normal times. These are desperate times. We don't need competence. We need a revolution.
And this is where Newt shines.
Tempestuous and uneven? Certainly. But Newt has a political soul. Sometimes he wanders off, but he has an internal political compass that ultimately hews to conservatism. He has lived his life yearning to be a great figure etched into history.
For all of Mitt's extraordinary accomplishments, he lacks any such political compass. He simply recalibrates his politics for whomever he seeks to serve. If it is the people of Massachusetts, then he is glad to trash Ronald Reagan and embrace abortion rights. The people of America? Then just a few little tinkers and adjustments and dial-twisting and — Presto! — he is all lined up to be your leader.
America today is not an ailing company that needs a turnaround artist. It is the beacon of freedom to the world, and her flame is on the verge of flickering out. What we need is a debilitating default to cut us off from all this fantasy loan money that drives us deeper and deeper into cancerous debt every day. What we really need is a shock to the system that forces politicians in Washington to seriously set our priorities and drastically cuts spending.
That is just the sort of ugly scenario Mitt Romney would be very good at avoiding. But we need someone to drive us straight into it.
• Charles Hurt's column appears Wednesdays. He may be reached at email@example.com