Bottom line: Most Americans would rather embrace a man who has fallen and climbed back to his feet than one who has never stubbed his toe on temptation. The successful protagonist is always flawed. In Romney breaking news: He removes the cheese from his pizza but has a weakness for chocolate milk. Mr. Squeaky not only has no skeletons in the closet; he has no closets.

Republicans can characterize their preference for Gingrich as the lure of Big Ideas, but this would be more justification than explanation. Gingrich does have big ideas; they’re just mostly bad ones. At least they are untested and, in such precarious times, perhaps too risky. His two-of-everything model for health care and Social Security, for example — wherein we keep the old system but also create a new one — sounds spectacular in concept. We love a choice. But implementation is a Trojan horse of another color. If one system is breaking the bank, how much would two put us in the hole?

A few weeks ago, Gingrich was the quiet gnome on the debate panel, patiently waiting for his turn to dazzle. He was the sage father figure, certain of his certainty, benignly tolerant of the petulant children whose company he was forced to keep. Today, he is the prince of tides.