Two things seem true as Mitt Romney approaches the crucial Super Tuesday primary and caucuses.
First, this campaign has aged him like nothing else during the nearly 65 years in his life.
The silver sideburns that once accented a preternaturally youthful face have now blended into the rest of his famed slicked-back hair. His cheeks have become hollow and his eyes are sunken and defined by crows feet.
Second, this campaign has to be the most humiliating experience of his life: suffering the slings and arrows of political rivals who lack his organization or fund-raising prowess, experiencing the vacillating embrace and disavowal of Republican voters, and seeing both Democrats and members of his own party alike mock his business and political records.
As a child, Romney was treasured by his parents as a miracle baby. As a teen, he impressed adults with his resilience and aptitude after a tragic car crash during his Mormon mission. In college, he didn’t just complete the coursework but graduated with high honors. At Bain Capital, he wasn’t only revered for making his partners and investors wealthy but for saving its parent company, Bain & Co., from bankruptcy. In church, he wasn’t merely a congregant but a respected ward and stake leader and potential candidate for apostle. His success turning around the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics inspired Massachusetts voters to elect him their governor.
Even in 2008, when a string of Super Tuesday losses convinced him to end his first White House campaign, he went on to recoup his personal and political dignity by raising money and campaigning earnestly for the candidate who vanquished him, John McCain.
Doing all the right things and checking all the proper boxes during the next few years made him a leading figure in a party with a tradition of nominating the next candidate in line.
Yet today, despite outraising the Republican field, despite rebounding from a 2008 Iowa caucus loss with a virtual tie in this year’s caucuses, and despite having firewalls hold in New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada, and Michigan, Romney continues to be one loss away from renewed talk of a brokered convention or the late entry of a candidate like Chris Christie to upstage him as the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
The frustration was evident recently when his closest confidant, his wife, Ann, joked that she might draft a Nixonian enemies list for her husband’s traveling press corps.
She told a group of Michigan Republicans: “I am so mad at the press I could just strangle them. And, you know, I think I’ve decided there are going to be some people invited on the bus and some people just aren’t going to be invited on the bus.”
Her laughter did little to conceal the statement was seemingly only half in jest.
On Tuesday, though, Romney has a chance to win enough primaries and caucuses not to seal the nomination but make it highly unlikely that remaining rivals Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul can do so themselves the rest of the way.
It would be salvation for a person who has been battered by a process that, despite its faults, aptly prepares candidates for the rigors of the office they seek.
Gingrich, the former House speaker, has proven a largely regional candidate, his victory in South Carolina the first place he has won an election larger than a congressional district. He stands to do so again Tuesday in his longtime home of Georgia, but his prospects elsewhere are dim.
Paul, the libertarian Texas congressman, has won nothing, coming close to tieing Santorum and Romney in Iowa but subsequently showing little mass appeal in any other primary or caucus. Picking up delegates amounts to a symbolic victory when you lose every election.
Santorum eked out a win in the Iowa caucuses and stunned the Romney campaign by winning the Colorado caucuses on the same day he scored a trifecta with victories in Minnesota and Missouri.
Should the former Pennsylvania senator win Ohio on Super Tuesday, analysts will surely note that no Republican has gone on to be elected president without also winning the Buckeye State’s primary.
But several other things are true: Neither Santorum nor Gingrich is on Tuesday’s ballot in the general election battleground state of Virginia, evidence of their failure to gather the requisite signatures to qualify. For Gingrich, it is especially embarrassing, since he now lives in McLean, Va.
The first lesson all successful politicians learn is to tend to the home garden, because there can be no grand political cause, no climb to higher office if they don’t hold onto their current seat of power.
In Virginia, where only Romney and Paul are on the ballot, Romney has a chance of securing all 46 delegates should he garner at least 50 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Santorum also did not submit enough delegates to qualify for the ballot in three Ohio congressional districts, eschewing the nine Republican National Convention delegates he would have received from them should he win the primary.
The former senator also failed to file the full complement of delegates in six other congressional districts, forging nine more delegates, or a total of 18 of the 63 up for grabs in the primary.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams, in a comment echoed by other campaign officials, said: “The fact that he cannot execute the simple tasks that are required to win the Republican nomination proves that Rick Santorum is incapable of taking on President Obama’s formidable political machine.”
Beyond the all-important electoral numbers, Romney also has two spiritual examples as he confronts the most piercing doubts and doubters of his life.
One, about which he speaks little, is the example of his Mormon forefathers.
As the Globe’s Michael Kranish and Scott Helman detail in their book, “The Real Romney,” Romney’s great-great grandfather, Miles Romney, spent years building a Mormon temple in Nauvoo, Ill., only to be forced out of town at the point of a bayonet before anti-Mormon mobs set his handiwork on fire.
His great-grandfather, Miles P. Romney, made a harrowing 1,300-mile trek west to Salt Lake City as the Mormons sought sanctuary from their opponents.
His grandfather, Gaskell Romney, helped build most of a Mexican settlement known as Colonia Juarez after his father fled south of the border to avoid US prohibitions on his religion’s practice of polygamy.
Gaskell and his son, George Romney, the father of Mitt Romney, subsequently returned to the United States after being threatened by Mexican revolutionaries.
On the stump today, Mitt Romney tells the more contemporary tale of his father working as a paint salesman and lathe and plaster carpenter before going on to lead American Motors and being elected a three-term governor of Michigan.
In short, being subdued by opponents like Santorum and Gingrich - whom he brands tired Washington insiders - would betray a family legacy hardened by far more challenging adversaries and adversities.
The second example, about which Romney has spoken at several points in both his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, was set by speedskater Dan Jansen.
He famously won an Olympic gold medal in the final race of his fourth Olympics, after losing prior efforts with falls, unexpectedly slow finishes, or stunned by the news his sister was on the verge of death from leukemia.
Romney appropriated Olympian terminology in 2008 when he said his Iowa loss amounted to winning “the silver” in the contest.
But Jansen himself has endorsed Romney in both elections, saying the confidence he felt that Romney could resurrect the 2002 Games is matched by the confidence he feels in him as a potential president.
On Super Tuesday, Romney has the chance to redeem himself politically.
And should he ultimately win the nomination this spring, it will be after he was emasculated in a way that Barack Obama was not in 2008 - and rebounded in the tradition of not just of some modern athlete but his own ancestors.