Burning Bright: A Toupological Analysis

Stepping away from politics, I’d like to put in yet another plug for my favorite non-stallionic site on the web: the genius that is Shatner’s Toupee. Since 2009, their toupological studies department has chronicled the history of the hairpiece of He Who Is Shatner. I have no idea who came up with the idea or who’s writing the thing, but I do know that it’s extraordinarily well-executed, insightful, clever, and filled with tremendous affection for William Shatner. It’s well worth reading, whether or not you have a compelling interest in fake hair.

I give you this background in order to steal a page from their playbook. My favorite posts are the ones they call “Full Toupological Analyses,” where they take one of William Shatner’s many screen appearances and review it at length, concluding with an assessment of how well the Shatner Toupee holds up in the process. I especially recommend their reviews of Incubus, the first full-length feature film spoken entirely in Esperanto:
Roger Corman’s The Intruder, where Shatner brilliantly plays a racist precursor to Glenn Beck:
And, of course, the full toupological analysis of the noble failure that is Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Quite by accident, I came across a previously unknown – at least to me – magnificent piece of Shatneria, a toupological gem that the good folks at Shatner’s Toupee have yet to analyze. So, at the risk of stealing their shtick, I hereby provide for you a full toupological analysis of a 1974 episode of The Six Million Dollar Man entitled “Burning Bright.”

First, some background.

I received the first season of the Six Million Dollar Man on DVD as a Christmas present, and I have since devoured all thirteen episodes and the bonus features to boot. This is really the first television series I remember watching in its original run, beginning at a time when I was only six years old. I have great affection for the show as a whole, even though, on its merits, it really doesn’t deserve it. Nostalgia can cover a multitude of sins, but it can’t turn this show into anything more than a mildly interesting 70s relic.

My biggest beef with the thing is that every episode attempts to spread about twenty minutes of plot over the course of almost an hour, so the pace of the thing is deathly, deathly slow.

Take the first scene in the pilot film, for instance, where you meet one of the main characters – a guy named Oliver Spencer, the man who makes the decision to spend the six million bucks to rebuild the title character. How do you meet him? Well, you get to watch him walking alongside Federal Building in Westwood, California – it’s supposed to be in Washington D.C. but you can see the Wilshire Boulevard address over the front door. Then, using a cane, the dude walks up to the front door of the building, walks into the building, gets in the elevator, presses the button, and rides the elevator up, waiting twice as the elevator opens to let the rest of the people off on their floors. Then you watch him walk into a conference room full of people, walk to the head of the table, and then unlock a briefcase before he says anything – and the first thing he says is “distribute these, please,” to his secretary as he passes out a bunch of random papers.

The whole sequence takes one minute and forty-eight frickin’ seconds, or, in television terms, an eternity.

Here. Watch it for yourself if you don’t believe me. It’s much, much less exciting than it sounds.

Notice the insertion stock footage of the Federal Building and how it has a different texture from the rest of the sequence. Each episode is crammed with cheap-looking stock footage, and often the same stock footage. Indeed, one identical shot is used at the beginning of two separate episodes. In the first, “Doomsday and Counting,” it’s supposed to be an island off the coast of Russia. In “Last of the Fourth of Julys,” the identical film, complete with annoying lens flares, is used to identify the coast of Norway(!). What makes it especially bizarre is that it’s clearly a shot of the Southern California coastline near Point Mugu, which, correct me if I’m wrong, does not resemble either Russia and Norway, let alone both.

Perhaps Oliver Spencer personally filmed this footage in exile, as he disappears after the pilot movie, where you learn that civilian Steve Austin is drafted against his will to serve the OSO – the Office of Special Operations. When the series begins, Oscar Goldman appears and replaces Spencer – or maybe we’re supposed to pretend Spencer got plastic surgery, a name change, and something to fix his bum leg. The entire name of the agency changes, too – it’s now the OSI – Office of Scientific Intelligence, or some such, and Steve Austin is a Colonel in the Air Force, not a civilian, and he and Oscar are buddy buddy, unlike his strained relationship with the prickly and far more interesting Mr. Spencer, who sends Steve on a suicide mission just to test him and asks if they can keep him drugged and unconscious between assignments.

Continuity really isn’t an issue here, and, indeed, one can watch the episodes entirely out of sequence and not feel confused. Steve is reintroduced each time as an astronaut who walked on the moon, and he always recounts his origin story to some hapless guest star, so you’re always starting fresh and never have to feel like anything that happened before really matters. Plus this bit of incessantly repeated exposition also helps to pad out the running time, which seems to be the producers’ primary goal.

To that end, everything Steve does bionically is shown in slow motion. That means that in the episode “The Day of the Robot,” Lee Majors fights John Saxon for a full eight and a half minutes. Seriously. EIGHT AND A HALF MINUTES. IN… SLOW… MOTION. I could show you the whole thing, but instead, I recommend you just look at this picture -

- and imagine starting at slight variations of this for EIGHT AND A HALF FREAKING MINUTES.

That’s not to say the show is without its charms. Lee Majors is the perfect embodiment of small screen macho – impressive but not intimidating, sort of a Steve McQueen with all the edges smoothed away. It’s delightful to see the ridiculously advanced things they do with computers that still read punchcards, and it’s even more fun to see the shows chock full of 1970s guest stars who apparently alternate between appearances on Match Game PM and the Six Million Dollar Man.

Which brings us, of course, to the good Mr. Shatner and his portrayal of Josh Lang, a disturbed astronaut who stands at the center of the tenth episode of the first season, “Burning Bright.”

______________________

I was astonished when I saw the beginning of this episode, as it opens with perhaps the most delightfully bizarre Shatner monologue ever recorded. The visuals are typical Six Million Dollar dreck, as it shows mostly NASA stock footage of a space walk interspersed with shots of Shatner in a cheap spacesuit filmed in front of a cardboard cutout of the moon. But the text! The delivery! It’s pure Shatnerian weirdness delivered in a camp, over-the-top style that, by the end, makes every histrionic Captain Kirk speech look tame by comparison. I still can’t decide if it’s unspeakably awful or one of the very best things the man has ever done.

Behold, and marvel!

So what to make of that? And who is the guy “Andy” that Josh Lang was talking about? The folks at NASA are baffled, and they call in Josh Lang’s good buddy Steve Austin to help. They tell Steve that Lang’s brain is now “supercharged” by some kind of electrical field he encountered on the spacewalk, and his erratic behavior will make it impossible to send him up on the next “space shot.” Steve asks his superiors to let him talk to Josh and see if he can’t straighten things out.

Steve then undergoes “testing” of his bionics, which provides an opportunity to recycle about three minutes of old footage from previous episodes, including two shots we just saw in the opening credits. (Apparently, his bionic tests require him to change outfits with each different exercise.) At the end of the test, he gets a phone call from Josh, who asks to meet him at Ocean World Amusement Park, a place where Josh feels “comfortable.” It’s there that the two astronauts finally meet face-to-face, in front of an aquarium where we half-expect to see Leonard Nimoy swimming a la Star Trek IV.

Josh tells Steve that he knows he’s saying things that are “way out there,” but he can’t turn off the flood of new ideas pouring into his brain since his encounter with the electrical field. Steve reports the exchange to NASA, and they decide to ground Josh and keep him under observation. While Steve is defending Josh and asking for more time, the phone rings to report that Josh is tearing up reams of paper in the computer room and claiming to have found a mistake in the program for the next space shot. Everyone thinks he’s crazy except Steve.


Steve then asks Oscar Goldman to check on the computer error, and, at the same time, also run a computer query to determine whether or not Josh Lang was right when he said that the sun is the origin of the universe. (Seriously. I’m not making that up. The show posits that somehow, a 1970s computer with magnetic tape and punch cards would be able to determine, magically, whether or not the sun is the origin of the universe. Remember, these computers have about 1/1000th the computing capacity of my iPhone.)

Steve and Josh then go jogging in hideously ugly 1970s jumpsuits which show off Steve’s hairy chest and Josh’s unsettling affinity for baby blue:

While jogging, Josh stops at a group of high voltage electrical poles and decides to climb them, all the while talking to the mysterious “Andy” that he had mentioned in space. “Hang on, Andy!” he calls. “I’m coming!”

He ends up grabbing a power line and electrocuting himself. Steve jumps up to rescue him. Josh intuits immediately that Steve is bionic. “How’d you know?” Steve asks. Because the “name [bionics] just popped into my head,” Josh answers. Josh tells Steve that with his bionics and with Josh’s “far out brain,” they now constitute “superior types,” a whole new species. But when asked about who Andy is, Josh angrily denies that he knows anyone named Andy. So Steve tells Josh that he truly is too unstable to go back to space, and Josh reluctantly agrees.

The next day, Steve rifles through Josh’s personal records and discovers a $100,000 life insurance policy on Josh payable to someone named Ernesto Arruza in Texas. In the meantime, Josh is locked up in a hospital and placed under observation, but he escapes by mentally overpowering his guard, knocking him unconscious, stealing his uniform, and walking out the door when the next shift arrives.

NASA discovers Josh’s escape as Steve gets a note from Josh asking him to meet him at the waterpark, alone. Once there, Josh tells Steve he can now talk to dolphins. Dolphins hold the key to the mysteries of the universe, doncha know. Josh want to talk the dolphins with him into space and bring them to the electrical field that supercharged his brain. He explains this in a deliciously goofy speech that has all the trademark elements of Shatner’s hammiest work.

The plot then kicks into overdrive, both in terms of pace and silliness. Oscar comes back and claims that a computer less powerful than a Pong terminal confirms that, yes, the sun is the center of the universe, so Josh convinces Steve that the next space shot should include a dolphin(!). NASA, however, just doesn’t seem to be interested in extraterrestrial aquatics. They decide Josh needs to be locked up for good, but Josh again overpowers his captors with his brains and then heads out to Texas and Ernesto Arruza, who Steve discovers is the father of Josh’s childhood friend Andy, who died when they were climbing electrical wires. Josh is becoming increasingly erratic as he loses control of his mind, even killing a sheriff’s deputy by accident. This leads to a final confrontation with Steve on another set of power lines, another melodramatically absurd, over-the-top Shatner rant filled with mathematical gibberish, and, alas, a tragic ending that ensures that there will be no “Burning Bright II.”

Evidence suggests that Bill Shatner does not have high regard for this bit of work during what has come to be known as his “lost years.” In his book Star Trek Movie Memories, he recalls:

Over the course of the next several years I accepted all offers, and was lucky enough to keep busy as an actor. Some of the roles, a guest villain shot on Columbo and featured spots on shows such as The Name of the Game and Mission Impossible, were quite good. Others, like hawking Promise margarine all over television, or battling The Six Million Dollar Man, were equally bad. A few, in films such as Big Bad Mama and The Devil’s Rain, can best be described as just plain ugly.

- Star Trek Movie Memories, page 18

So Shatner thinks “Burning Bright” isn’t ugly, just bad. He’s right – all things considered, it is pretty bad. At the same time, I think he’s overlooking much in this episode that is praiseworthy, all of which stems from his own committed performance.

I recognize that the story of an astronaut who gives his life in an attempt to launch dolphins into space while talking to dead childhood friends is not one that has been told in many media, and I think there’s a reason why. And that reason is that it’s stupid. It’s really stupid.

But dag nab it if Bill Shatner doesn’t recite algebraic fiddle faddle as if he’s giving Marc Antony’s funeral speech for Caesar.

One of the reasons Shatner has become – and remained – a beloved icon is his willingness to throw himself with reckless abandon into whatever role comes his way, even one as laughable as this. Most actors would shy away from the risk of appearing ludicrous, but Shatner has no such inhibitions. One watches in horror, then fascination, then admiration as he howls about the sun as the center of the universe, x1=A2 omega cosine T.

Who else would want to do this? Who else could do this even if they tried?

Imagine, for instance, a parallel universe where Shatner had landed the role of Steve Austin after finishing his run on Star Trek, and therefore Lee Majors is the one cast as the erratic, dolphin-chummy astronaut. Imagine Majors calling out to Andy and climbing the power line and howling about interstellar geometry until his brain fried. Yeah, good luck with that.

This show was filmed only five years after Star Trek went off the air, and, by this time, the reruns of the show were gathering steam and driving Star Trek deep into the national psyche. It seems clear that Shatner’s casting was designed to capitalize on the popularity of the Kirk persona, reimagining the good starship captain as a deranged NASA astronaut. But what’s even more interesting is how prescient the whole thing seems to be when viewed almost forty years after the fact.

Harve Bennett, the show’s producer, went on to save the Star Trek franchise eight years later as the producer of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, unarguably the best piece of Trek ever committed to film. (Don’t argue with me on that one. I said it was unarguable.) The idea of launching dolphins into space seems like a stunted prequel to Star Trek IV, when terrestrial mammals – albeit whales, not dolphins – finally do make it to the final frontier with Shatner’s help. And Josh Lang’s bizarre Minnesota Flats impression would have made a great back cover to Shatner’s current musical disaster, Seeking Major Tom.

Let’s move swiftly to the hair. (I’ve always wanted to write that.)

Longtime readers at Shatner’s Toupee will recall the four distinct phases of Shatner’s toupological history: the Jim Kirk lace, the Lost Years, the TJ Curly, and the Denny Katz. (I won’t define them here for you; you can read all about them over at ST, and this post is already far too long.) This appearance is smack dab in the middle of the Lost Years period, when Bill was likely too poor to afford a decent rug and too far off of Hollywood’s radar screen to merit a studio springing for a piece worthy of his talents. The result is what may very well be the absolute nadir of the Lost Years period and the use of perhaps the ugliest toupee Bill Shatner has ever worn.

I know, I know. Them’s fighting words. But how on earth could someone appear on national television looking like this?

Much of the episode takes place outdoors, so this sloppy, unkempt toup, which looks more like painted straw than actual hair, is repeatedly exposed to direct sunlight and shown in extreme close-up, silencing all doubters who might think this greasy black bird’s nest could have possibly grown from a human scalp. Behold this:

And this:

And this:

Notice in all the shots the distinct contrast between the artificial helmet of black broom fibers and the small thatch of real hair at the sideburns.

Other than the truly wretched nature of the toup, there seem to be no remarkable toupological moments to speak of, where Shatner interacts with the toup in ways that are revealing or interesting. Indeed, the producers seem eager to conceal the toup as often as possible, either with a space helmet or an MP’s cap, as pictured earlier.

There is, however, one exception.

In the clip posted above, when Steve is climbing up the electrical pole to rescue his buddy, Josh uses the power of his mind to cause Steve excruciating pain, whereby he grabs the side of his head in agony, like so:

He then grabs his head with both his hands, as indicated by the following picture:

It’s not as visible in the tighter shot, but it’s clear in both cases that Lee Majors has no qualms about his hands making contact with his hair. However, when William Shatner is experiencing similar cranial anguish, his hands reach toward his face and curl his fingers into semi-fists, only to brush against his face rather than touch his fake hair.

It looks something like this.

So what we have here, my fellow distinguished students of toupology, is a classic example of Fake Hair Brain Pain, which ought to go alongside the Real Hair Reflex as a notable, previously undiscovered toupological phenomenon.

And thus concludes our toupological adventure. It was lengthy, silly, and somewhat pointless, but I had an awful lot of fun putting it together, and now that you’ve read it, you can’t unread it.

You may applaud.

Newt Kemp

In 1996, I watched in horror as unctuous Bill Clinton decimated a flatfooted Bob Dole in every debate. So I got very excited when it came time for the single vice presidential debate – a chance for the charismatic, articulate Jack Kemp to finally make the case for the Republicans in the way that Bob Dole, an awkward speaker at best, never could.

That debate was the single most disappointing moment in a campaign filled with nothing but disappointing moments for conservatives.

I thought about that as I read this piece in American Thinker titled “The Myth of ‘Newt the Great Debater’” by John Ziegler.  Newt’s second resurgence comes as a direct result of two very strong debate performances, and conservatives are salivating over the idea of “a series of glorious, three-hour, Lincoln/Douglas style debates. By the end of that process, according to the Gospel according to Newt, Obama will have to be carried off the stage by network news anchors as our next president basks in the glow of a nation grateful to having been shown the light of truth.”

To further quote Ziegler’s piece:

This scenario is not just some risk-free fantasy; it is as dangerous as the kid on the top of a building who thinks he can fly because he is wearing a fancy cape. Newt Gingrich would not only fail to crush Obama in a debate, he instantaneously would eliminate any doubt as to the inevitability of the president’s reelection.

Newt is the kid with the cape, and he’s going to crash to the ground. The question is whether or not he’s going to take the GOP with him.

In his closing remarks, Newt talked about the “series of Lincoln/Douglas debates” that he would have with the president. Really? Has the president agreed to this series of debates? No. And he won’t. He would be a fool if he did.

Instead, we’re going to get the same kind of joint-press-conference-style debates we’ve gotten for the past umpteen election cycles, and Newt’s sprawling, grandiose nonsense will seem kind of goofy in that kind of a one-on-one with the prez. In addition, he won’t get a crowd of South Carolinian tea partiers to cheer every time he puts down the moderator. So, like Jack Kemp in 1996, he’ll walk into the debate with blitheringly high expectations for a forum that won’t allow him to meet them. The result? Hail to the Chief playing at Barack Obama’s second inaugural.

Still, Newt will win on Saturday, and the primary campaign will continue. There will be a huge hue and cry, oodles of false drama, and Romney will scramble to recover. This is, however, ultimately a very good thing for Mitt. Newt has made him a much better candidate, but he still has a long way to go if he hopes to have a prayer of winning a general election. His debate persona is a bit bizarre – he actually sounds more sincere and human when he’s reciting canned, rehearsed lines. When he tries to ad lib and awkwardly laughs at his own jokes, he’s terrible. (Is there a worse answer than “maybe” to the question about whether he’ll release his taxes?) Mitt is much better than he was in ’08, and he keeps getting better the harder he has to fight. South Carolina will force him to fight. He’s still going to win the nomination, but he’ll have earned it by the time he gets there.

By the way, am I the only one who thinks Santorum comes across as sanctimonious and whiny? People praising his debate performances see something other than what I’m seeing. What they call principle, I call petulance. This is going to come down to Newt and Mitt, and Mitt will win. And then he will lose – unless the struggle with Newt hones him into a candidate that doesn’t look like he stepped out of “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.”

In the meantime, fantasies of SuperNewt will dominate a few weeks worth of news cycles, until the electorate finally discovers his Newt Kemp alter ego.

Mormon Hatred Narrative

The mythical Mitt ceiling has been shattered, and, like it or not, the man is going to be the Republican nominee. He’s doing much better in South Carolina than my previous narrative said he would, although I think a Gingrich upset there wouldn’t be too surprising. But from then, we move to Florida, where no one else can possibly make a dent, and then it’s pretty much over.

Current enterprises of great pitch and moment will be in the rear view mirror in less than a month, and everyone bashing Mitt on the GOP side today will be pulling a Jon Huntsman and sucking up to him come mid-February. (Gosh, it’s nice to see Jon Huntsman gone. It’s especially nice that his departure has received the apathetic disdain it deserved. Letterman did a Top Ten List about his exit, and every entry was some variant of “Seriously, who’s Jon Huntsman?”)

So rather than pore over the soon-to-be-insignificant political minutiae of the present, I’m taking the long view on a subject that truly matters to me, which is that Mitt’s candidacy is going to call tremendous national attention to the Mormons, and that will be both a very good and very bad thing. Indeed, such controversy always is.

My cousin was in the middle of the maelstrom surrounding the building of the Boston temple a few years back. All the fiercely negative publicity surrounding that edifice was designed to make us Morms look like freaks, but it also resulted in a major spike of Boston residents who investigated and then joined the church. Anecdotal stories of Mormon missionaries passing out copies of the Book of Mormon in proximity to the rancid, vicious Book of Mormon musical suggest that even that piece of Broadway bile is stirring up positive interest, too.

The lesson to draw away from this is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is always polarizing, and it brings out the best and the worst in people. It’s messy, but that seems to be the way the Lord likes it. “I would thou wert cold or hot,” says Revelation 3:15, “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (That’s the King James Bible version, whereas the New World Translation reads “Seriously, who’s Jon Huntsman?”)

I cite scriptural precedent, then, to suggest that, unlike Jon Huntsman’s tepid candidacy, Mormonism is unlikely to produce a lukewarm response from the world at large.

The current kerfuffle surrounds Mitt’s tax returns, and, specifically, how much cash he’s forking over to religious fanatics. I received an email from an astute political observer who decided that Mitt is refusing to release his returns because they may demonstrate that he’s not paying enough tithing, and he might face church discipline as a result. I responded by saying there is zero chance of that happening, as the church does not conduct tithing audits.  They take no official position as to whether you should tithe on, say, your gross or your net income, and individual members are given complete autonomy on determining what constitutes ten percent of their income.

I responded by saying that I think the more likely scenario is that Mitt is paying way too much tithing, and will therefore look beholden to the Mormon cult. There are already news reports out there that suggest this is the case. “Mitt Romney Sent Millions to Mormon Church,” reports ABC News breathlessly, mentioning that his “role within the church as an adult is largely unexplored.” That doesn’t stop professional harridan Maureen Dowd from exploring it, though. In a snarky piece titled “Mitt’s Big Love,” she moans that, while attending Harvard Business School, Mitt lived in “a nondrinking, nonsmoking, suburban, uxorious bubble with Ann, revolving around Mormon rituals, Mormon couples and the Mormon credo of strong, heterosexual, traditional families.” The scandal! So uxorious! One longs for the days when urban candidates embraced rituals in support of weak, omnisexual, broken families whilst drinking themselves into a stupor and puffing on cigars.

Not content to smear Romney as a wife-loving, teetotaling weirdo, she then leaps back over a hundred years and discovers – *gasp*  - that 19th Century Mormons, even the ones named Romney, practiced polygamy! Never mind that the current LDS Church hasn’t practiced polygamy in well over a century and excommunicates anyone who does. The point is that Mitt is a stalking horse for the multiplicity of marriage, presumably so his buddy Newt can marry three women simultaneously instead of consecutively.

The title of Dowd’s article is a reference to a television show about polygamy that bears as much resemblance to modern Mormonism as Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch has to present-day Catholics.

(I bet you didn’t expect me to mention that, but nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!)

The double standard here is so painful that it startles me that no one else seems to notice it. Yes, Mitt’s great-grandfather was a polygamist. And Barack Obama’s father was a Muslim. “Father” is a whole lot closer than “great-grandfather.” Is Maureen Dowd now saying that Barack Obama Sr.’s Islamic faith is a legitimate political issue? Instead of “Mitt’s Big Love,” would she be comfortable with a similarly snarky article called “Barack’s Fatwa?”

Now that Mitt is the defacto nominee, I watch with equal measures of excitement and dread as to the religious dialogue on the horizon.

 

Iowa Narratives

It’s all about “narratives.”

What happened last night in Iowa matters far less than the stories that are being told about it. Santorum pulled off a stunning upset? Mitt failed to meet/met/exceeded expectations? Ron Paul is a contender/a joke/a spoiler? Which of these narratives will harden into “the” narrative that will define the race going forward?

Here are a few tales being told that deserve our attention:

Narrative 1: The Romney Ceiling

Kellyanne Conway was on TV last night saying, breathlessly, that “this proves that the Romney Ceiling is real.” One commenter over at Lucianne.com refers to Mitt as “Romney25,” explaining that the former governor is incapable of getting more than 25% of the vote in any situation.

This is a crock.

Romney is about 25 points ahead of his nearest rival in New Hampshire, a state which has no appetite to rubber stamp the preferences of Iowan, Mormon-hating evangelicals. Nothing that happened last night will erode Mitt’s considerable lead, and the “Romney Ceiling” will come shattering down, which will have Kellyanne and others insisting that New Hampshire doesn’t really count.

Narrative 2: Santorum Is Now a Real Contender

No, he isn’t. He is simply the latest repository of votes for people who can’t stand Mitt, especially those who hate Mormons. Yes, he was lucky enough to have his surge coincide with actual voting, and he will likely collapse under the same scrutiny that sank previous flashes in the pan. He has no money and no organization, and he’s going to lose big in New Hampshire.

Recall that Mike Huckabee won Iowa, too. After McCain stomped everyone in New Hampshire, Huckabee was done, despite being far more prepared, financially and organizationally, to conduct a nationwide campaign than Santorum is.

Narrative 3: Last Night = Bad Night for Mitt

That’s only true if this narrative takes hold. Remember, Mitt’s initial plan was to skip Iowa, where the anti-Mormon dynamics that created the Huckabeast are still in full force. Yet without any campaigning, he was still at the top of most polls, and it was only about two months ago that he decided to seriously compete. He won this thing – yes, by only eight votes, but that’s better than losing by eight votes – with about a tenth of the time, people, and money he sank into it four years ago.

The issue here is expectations. Mitt’s people unsuccessfully tried to downplay his chances, but expectations were raised despite the Romney campaign’s best efforts. Given the heavy evangelical vote, it is impossible to imagine Mitt doing any better in Iowa than he did. The fact that he did it with so little effort is almost miraculous. That’s my narrative, and I’m sticking to it.

Narrative 4: Romney Can’t Lose

Of course he can. He’s going to lose South Carolina, for instance – no way a Mormon can survive there. South Carolina, unlike Iowa, is usually representative of who gets the nomination. If Santorum can survive a devastating loss in New Hampshire and come back to win South Carolina, then it’s easy to imagine a long, hard slog to the nomination. I don’t think Mitt will lose, as he is easily the best equipped to survive a long, hard slog, but a lot can happen between now and then. Plus Gingrich is out for blood, although I think he’s now something of a spent force.

Narrative 5: Mitt Romney Stole The Victory

This was the first thing out of Rush Limbaugh’s mouth this morning, and it’s utter poppycock. According to Rush, Mitt and the “establishment” held the totals in two counties to make sure that Mitt would win by eight instead of losing by five. First off, how did Mitt do that? Second, why would he do it? Did he know that he would be able to pull of a tiny victory with literally a handful of votes? Does he have two counties on the payroll? If he’s going to steal the thing via fraud, why couldn’t he pull off a bigger margin than eight measly ballots?

Incidentally, all the talk of the Republican “establishment” always strikes me as ridiculous. Who’s pulling the strings in this “establishment,” and why are Rush and Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum not in it? Is the establishment simply Karl Rove with a bunch of winged monkeys?

So here’s my narrative.

Narrative El Stallion: Mitt Romney Wins the Nomination and Loses the Election

Mitt will win the nomination – maybe quickly, more likely after a long slog – because the Republicans don’t have anybody else. Bachmann’s gone, but Rick Perry is apparently staying in the race, which is nice, because Perry and Gingrich may be able to dilute Santorum’s likely South Carolina win and weaken him for the slog.

And then Mitt loses to Obama, mainly due to the fact that a Mormon can’t win a general election. I state that not to be a victim, but rather as a recognition of reality. The Mormon thing matters, and nobody wants to talk about how much. But both Iowa and South Carolina provide plentiful evidence that there are oodles of evangelical voters who would rather suffer through four more years of Obama than legitimize the LDS Church by putting someone from such an alien cult into the White House.

Golly. And you all thought this narrative would have a happy ending.

UPDATE: Intrade has Mitt with a 75% chance at winning the nomination vs. a 4% chance for Santorum. So much for the Santorum-the-Contender narrative.

UPDATE II: Newt was on the radio a minute ago complaining about the “establishment” and calling himself an “outsider.” Newt Gingrich is many things – a genius, an innovator, and, over the past few days, an insufferable whiner. An outsider he is not.

His current whining is particularly surprising. Oooooh, did the big bad Womney give you a boo-boo, Newtie? What on earth did you think Barack Obama would do to you if you became the nominee?