NASHUA, N.H. — Alone in his hotel room on a dark and stormy night, the presidential candidate was memorizing his talking points when the Devil appeared before him.
"Worry not," the Devil said. "I can grant you a victory in the primaries and the nomination of your party. But in return, you must sell me your soul.
"You must betray all decent principles. You must pander, trivialize and deceive. You must gain victory by exploiting bigotry, fear, envy and greed. And you must conduct a campaign based on lies, sham, hype and distortion."
"So?" the presidential candidate replied. "What's the catch?"
An old joke. But one of my favorites. And perfect for the Republican nominating race so far. Even though the New Hampshire primary was marked by an odd lack of passion on the part of the voters, it was marked by a high degree of Republican-on-Republican brutality.
It came to a head on the day before the primary. Mitt Romney, speaking about free market capitalism, spoke of bad insurance companies and how, "if you don't like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."
His statement was quickly chopped down to "I like to fire people," and almost the entire Republican field jumped down his throat. "Gov. Romney enjoys firing people; I enjoy creating jobs," said Jon Huntsman, knowing full well he was taking the quotation wildly out of context.
The media, playing their role as observers who come down from the hills after the battle is over to shoot the wounded, went into a frenzy over the "gaffe," threatening to make it the most trivial issue to affect an election since Howard Dean screamed.
Rick Perry savaged Romney and his former company, Bain Capital, as practicing "vulture capitalism."
"They're just vultures," Perry said. "They swoop in, eat the carcass and leave the skeleton."
Which might have been a vivid and effective attack — if Perry were running in the Democratic primaries. Most Republicans, however, are not outraged when companies buy up other companies, sell them off, make profits and cause the stock to rise. Why?
Because you know what they call people who own a lot of stocks? Republicans.
Somehow, Perry and the others had confused their own party with Occupy Wall Street.
Ron Paul rode to Romney's defense, issuing a statement saying, "Rather than run against Gov. Romney on the issues of the day, Santorum, Huntsman and Gingrich have chosen to play along with the media elites and exploit a quote taken horribly out of context."
But Rick Santorum said the whole incident was an example of how "inarticulate" Romney was, and Newt Gingrich, continuing his chosen role as human hand grenade, said it showed how Romney could never win a debate against Barack Obama and that Romney would be "the weakest nominee in decades."
But Gingrich has his own vulnerabilities, such as his continuing insistence on referring to himself as a member of "the middle class."
Romney was ready for that one. "If you have a half-a-million-dollar purchase from Tiffany's, you're not a middle-class American," Romney said.
But Romney, even during his moment of sweet and decisive victory Tuesday night, could not keep himself from letting a little bitterness creep into his speech.
"President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial," Romney said, "and in the last few days, we've seen some desperate Republicans join him."
His audience lustily booed the "desperate" among their own party, but Romney continued on a much higher plane, indicating that after the first two contests, Iowa and New Hampshire, he is already beginning his general election campaign.
"Soldiers coming home from the front lines are now standing in the unemployment lines," Romney said, and then said Obama's philosophy was, "It could be worse."
'It must be better, and it will be better!" Romney said. "This campaign is about more than replacing a president. It's about saving the soul of America."
Gingrich was not buying it. "I am actually electable," Gingrich said about the difference between himself and Romney. "We've spent a lot of time in South Carolina, and we've made several visits there, but our name recognition is low. But tomorrow, there will be a new order to the universe."
Tomorrow dawned, however, and the order of the universe was the same.
Mitt Romney is 2-0. After the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21, he will probably be 3-0. And after Florida on Jan. 31, he will probably be 4-0.
And there will be nobody who can stop him.
Mitt Romney has become what every capitalist dreams of: He has become too big to fail.
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.