If, as most pundits now believe, Mitt Romney has the inside track for the Republican nomination, he is the first GOP candidate in more than a generation not to be syntactically challenged. Just look at the list of the party’s choices since Richard Nixon, whether elected (Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush) or defeated (Gerald Ford, Robert Dole, John McCain). Whatever other attributes these candidates possessed, facility in extemporaneous exchange was not one of them. None of these men could be counted on to handle a challenging question, let alone always keep noun and verb somewhere near their rightful places.
This deficiency took a psychological toll on the Republican faithful over the years. Hours before a presidential debate or a major interview or press conference, Republicans, nerves frayed, would begin beseeching heaven that their candidate might escape disaster. Could he get through without denying that the Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe (Gerald Ford in 1976) or leaving some imaginary figure, a century hence, wandering aimlessly down a California coastal highway (Ronald Reagan in 1984)?