The most memorable line of the first phase? There’s “9-9-9” and “Oops,” but the best came from Mitt Romney when he was asked about the Gingrich campaign’s failure to qualify for the Virginia ballot. Mr. Gingrich had compared it to Pearl Harbor, a setback, but we’ll recover. Mr. Romney, breezily, to a reporter: “I think it’s more like Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory.”
It made people laugh. It made them want to repeat it, which is the best free media of all, the line people can’t resist saying in the office. And they laughed because it pinged off a truth: Gingrich is ad hoc, disorganized.
The put-down underscored Romney’s polite little zinger of a week before, that Mr. Gingrich was “zany.” And it was a multi-generationally effective: People who are 70-years-old remember “I Love Lucy,” but so do people who are 30 and grew up with its reruns. Mr. Romney’s known for being organized but not for being deft. This was deft. It’s an old commonplace in politics that if you’re explaining you’re losing, but it’s also true that if they’re laughing you’re losing. The campaign trail has been pretty much a wit-free zone. It’s odd that people who care so much about politics rarely use one of politics’ biggest tools, humor. Mr. Romney did and scored. More please, from everyone.