New Hampshire primary TV coverage: Mitt Romney wins in votes and loses in the court of 'I like to fire people'

As the results of the New Hampshire primary vote rolled in, cable news networks had found the theme of the night. It was, roughly speaking, “What the hell was Mitt Romney thinking when he said, ‘I like to fire people’?” By 8 p.m. EST, Romney was the projected winner, with Ron Paul besting Jon Huntsman for second place. That left the pundits with lots of time to ponder the Romney psyche.

On MSNBC, the clip of Romney saying, “I like to fire people” was the big “take-away” from this entire primary. After MSNBC contributor and former RNC head Michael Steele tried to defend Romney by saying the context was that Mitt was asserting his right as a consumer to get rid of people who aren’t delivering their services competently, as any citizen-consumer might. Rachel Maddow insisted that phrasing matters, that it’s one thing to exercise your right to decline the services of someone, but, as she put it, “I don’t care if you’re Ayn Rand, to take pleasure [in firing people], you’ve revealed something creepy about yourself.”

Over on Fox News, they were practicing a fine ambivalence. The angle the channel chose most frequently was to assert that “I like to fire people” was being taken out of context by liberals… except when Romney’s Republican opponents were using the line to condemn him, too. Earlier in the day, Huntsman had quoted the phrase and said in response, “I like to create jobs.” Fox News’ Chris Wallace was in a jovial mood, referring to commentators Karl Rove and Joe Trippi as “the space cowboys,” as in, “The space cowboys are back to try to put this into some historical perspective.” Maybe he thinks Trippi is trippy?

I’m afraid CNN continues to diffuse its coverage with its compulsive technophilia. John King’s pastel color-coded flick-screens were overwhelmed only by the sonorous drone of Wolf Blitzer; this is a news organization that has to learn how to assemble lively panels with lively anchors, and start putting forth ideas and discussion, not bright colors and fancy computer graphics. It’s always a relief when Anderson Cooper strides in to start speaking with crisp clarity about the night’s results, even if he did have to preside over a panel that included a braying James Carville.

“The President has run out of ideas,” said Romney in his 8:30 p.m. victory speech. “Now he’s run out of excuses.” In criticizing President Obama, Romney said, “My highest priority will be saving your job, not saving my own.”

“He apologizes for America,” said Romney of Obama. “I will never criticize the greatest nation in the history of the Earth.” (Media meme re Romney’s speech? Both CNN and MSNBC made a point of talking about how heavily Romney depends upon a teleprompter for his speeches, as opposed to, say, Ron Paul’s spontaneous yet precise eruptions.)

Ron Paul’s concession speech was a typical corker — which is to say, uncorked. He addressed his supporters, saying, “Our [Republican] opponents; the media … I have to laugh when they describe you and me as being dangerous.” Then, true to his words, he did laugh, a dry chuckle, followed by this: “We are dangerous! To the status quo of this country!”

You have to hand it to him: Paul is the only candidate who could get a huge cheer by yelling, “We will bring down the Federal Reserve System as well!” The crowd chanted: “We respect our Constitution! Ron Paul revolution!”

Newt Gingrich emphasized how well he’s performed in debates in his concession speech, carrying that activity into the future, exhorting his followers with the promise that he is the candidate “capable of beating President Obama face-to-face, to overcome his billion dollar machine.” (Said the man who just got a $5 million super PAC check… )

On Monday night’s Colbert Report, the host, joking about how hung over he was from the back-to-back Republican debates, said, “I was more wasted than a donation to the Huntsman campaign.” After Tuesday night, I imagine some Huntsman supporters may have been feeling the Stephen Colbert headache. Huntsman invoked the Beatles: “Third place is the ticket to ride!” But Huntsman has unveiled a catchy new slogan: “Country first!” His supporters chanted “Country first!” during Huntsman’s concession speech. Maybe they were expecting Toby Keith to come out and sing to them? Ringo Starr? Act naturally…

Twitter: @kentucker

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