It was Peggy Noonan who suggested that, especially during difficult economic times, voters look for a father figure, which Barack Obama decidedly is not. (He’s the “bright, lost older brother,” she wrote.) Noonan thought Romney just might be the GOP candidate who most evokes the father figures in 1950s and 1960s sitcoms that, in her words, “terrorized and comforted a generation of children from non-functioning families.”

If Romney managed to convey that impression even before his sons started to stump for him, then their presence on the campaign trail can only enhance the image of Romney as a wise, stable head-of-the-household — because, unlike Huntsman’s daughters, Romney’s sons are not snarky or silly, but down-to-earth, sincere and relatable. Yesterday, four of the five Romney sons (the fifth was absent only because he’s in the midst of his medical residency) met with Republican voters at a coffee shop in New Hampshire. What they had to say about their father was fresh and encouraging. Reuters reports:

The boys stuck mostly to the campaign playbook of emphasizing the candidate’s record as a businessman, having rescued the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and run the neighboring state of Massachusetts as governor.

But they also gave a glimpse of their father’s personal values.

“My dad has more energy than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Josh Romney said. “He is also tremendously cheap.”

As children in Belmont, Massachusetts, the boys said they learned not to leave the tap water running too long, or they would get a rebuke from their father, who was in the process of building the venture capital powerhouse Bain Capital.

“Congress would learn pretty quickly that they’re not going to get money from my dad either,” Josh Romney said. …

“My dad’s image couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Matt Romney, 40, who works at a real estate investment trust in San Diego. “If you see him in other settings, he’s the most fun guy out there. He’s always joking around.”

It’s undoubtedly a sign of my wide-eyed optimism that I often fall for campaign gimmicks — from Herman Cain singing “Impossible Dream” to Jon Huntsman’s vamping at the keyboards to this — but it does seem to me that Romney’s case that, as a person at least, he has lived consistently and conservatively continues to acquire greater credibility. I first began to follow Josh Romney on Twitter when somebody retweeted a tweet of his that included a picture of his dad and mom sitting in a couple of hotel armchairs in advance of a GOP debate. When I looked at the picture, I felt an overpowering sense of comfort. Here was a familiar scene. How many times — in advance of some event — has my dad, in button-down shirt and jeans (which happened to be what Romney was wearing in the picture), sat across from mom in a little hotel sitting area, talking about this or that idea? Does any of this make Mitt Romney politically other than he has always been? Of course not. But his sons’ presence on the trail reminds me that we have and could do worse than to nominate him or any of this year’s supposedly “weak” GOP candidates.