Romney’s campaign is all technique and no music. His speech in Exeter was schmaltz piled on top of saccharin in a perfect storm of substanceless sentimentality. First, he said he believed in America. Then, he said he loved America. And in conclusion, he quoted verses from “America the Beautiful.” In Romney’s case, patriotism is the first refuge of a politician who doesn’t dare say anything new or interesting. It wasn’t until New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Romney supporter, took the stage and slapped down a heckler that it felt like someone had thrown open a window in the tidy structure created by Team Romney to let in a gust of spontaneity and irrepressibly joyful combativeness.

Neither of those will ever be a quality associated with Romney. He continues to excel in debates by routinely coming up with answers that feel as though they were produced by a crack marketing team for maximum unassailability. His stumbles are so rare that they become as noticeable as the tiny wobbles of an Olympic skater trying to nail a triple Lutz. Challenged over the weekend on why he didn’t run for reelection as Massachusetts governor in 2006, he said he “went back into business,” even though he was already running for president when he left the governor’s mansion. Romney wanted to hang on to the scripted presentation of himself as a businessman above all else — plausibility be damned. It was a small falsity that stood for larger worries about his genuineness.