You never want to let them see how much it hurts.
You get hit by a pitch, you don't rub the spot. You get rocked by a punch, you try to throw a counter-punch. You lose three races in one night as a political candidate, and, well, you don't do what Mitt Romney did.
Romney is known as an even-keel kind of guy. Doesn't get too high; doesn't get too low. But Tuesday he lost three states to Rick Santorum, and it threw him and his campaign into disarray and confusion.
But before we get to that, we ought to answer your chief question: Which one is Rick Santorum?
You can be forgiven for forgetting. Santorum was the guy who back in January came in second in Iowa to Mitt Romney by eight votes. Santorum had spent the most time in Iowa, and Romney had spent the least time in Iowa, and so Santorum seemed finished.
A few weeks later after a recount, however, GOP officials announced that Santorum had actually won Iowa by 34 votes, with the proviso that they didn't actually know who the hell had won Iowa. The votes of eight precincts had gone permanently "missing." Maybe a hog ate them, maybe they were converted into ethanol, maybe they were deep-fat fried and put on a stick for the next Iowa state fair. Nobody knows.
Which is why Santorum got no boost from his sudden turnaround victory in Iowa. He was just another candidate on the right of his party, and the media had others to concentrate on, like Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich is colorful, quotable, unpredictable and utterly vicious. So vicious that even after he won the South Carolina primary, he began using rhetoric directed at his fellow Republicans that was so reckless, he effectively disqualified himself as the alternative to Romney.
If you were a Republican who really could not bring yourself to vote for Romney — and as one wag put it, the Republicans seem torn over which of their candidates they despise the least — then your choices were limited to Santorum and Ron Paul.
Faced with that choice, anti-Romney Republicans found it easy to coalesce around Santorum on Tuesday, giving him victories in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado.
None of these contests awarded any delegates to the Republican National Convention — if you think presidential candidates are bizarre, you ought to take a look at the rules by which they are selected — but neither did the Iowa caucuses.
By my way of thinking, if the media are going to go nuts over Iowa, they ought to go at least semi-nuts over Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado.
But the Romney campaign decided not to shrug off its losses — it has tons of money and is well positioned to win future contests — but instead concentrate on how Santorum's victories were meaningless because they landed him no delegates.
On Wednesday, Politico's Mike Allen began his highly influential Playbook with this quote from a Romney campaign official: "It's about delegates. We could have made the decision to spend money, resources. ... We could have run television, run radio or spent more time. You can't do everything. You gotta run your race."
Brilliant. You got to save that money in big sacks and not spend it, because you "gotta run your race" and, oh, by the way, LOSE THREE STATES IN ONE NIGHT.
At this stage of the game, Romney should be making sure the race is not about delegates, but momentum. As long as he has the momentum, the other candidates can pick up a few delegates here and a few there, and it will not matter at all, because Romney will eventually run away with the contest.
But when you decide in early February that you can let an opponent walk off with three victories and huge media attention, then you have made a critical error. You have let the momentum shift, and when that happens, anything can happen.
And Romney seemed to realize this Tuesday night even if his staff did not. He looked understandably down and read his concession speech from two teleprompters as if he were seeing it for the first time — which he may have been.
He began with a long riff on his father, with Romney portraying himself as the son of a humble carpenter. (Wasn't there another humble carpenter who was the earthly father of somebody famous?)
"My father never graduated from college. He apprenticed as a lath and plaster carpenter. And he (was) pretty good at it," Romney said. "He actually could take a handful of nails, stick them in his mouth, and then, you know, spit them out, pointy end forward. On his honeymoon, he put aluminum paint in the trunk of the car and sold it along the way to pay for the gas and the hotels."
Which makes me admire Mitt's father, George Romney. My grandfather was a carpenter, and I don't remember him sticking nails in his mouth, but he could pound nails straight and true with just a few powerful whacks from his hammer. (Go try it if you think it's so easy.)
But let's get real: Mitt Romney did not grow up in the days when his father was a humble carpenter. By the time Mitt was 7, his father was already chairman and CEO of American Motors.
Then Mitt used a line in his speech that was even more questionable. "I am the only person in this race — Republican or Democrat — who has never served a day in Washington!" he proudly said.
It's true. But it's disingenuous. Mitt tried very hard to spend a day serving in Washington. He tried very hard to spend at least 2,191 days, the term of a U.S. senator, in Washington. The only thing that stopped him was his 17 percentage point loss to Ted Kennedy in 1994.
There is nothing shameful about losing a Senate race to Ted Kennedy. But the fact that Romney even tried shows you how badly he wanted to get to Washington.
So it was left to Rick Santorum — who was enormously aided in his victories by the lack of a Donald Trump endorsement — to have the line of the evening. "I don't stand here as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," Santorum said. "I stand here as the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."
There is actually no reason for anyone to count Romney out at this point. In the weeks ahead, we are going to learn if he can take a punch or if he has a crystal jaw.
Not all are downcast. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said, "Mitt Romney has the organization and the resources to go the distance in this election, and I believe he'll ultimately win our party's nomination."
All Romney has to do is pick himself up off the canvas and get his head straight first.
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.