Does Mitt Romney have a reputation for being boring because he's wooden and square, or because he's been running for president for eight years and the press is just tired of looking at him? The Republican presidential primary this year has been a story of the press' string of crushes, each candidate taking his or her turn to be flirted with, then adored, then cast aside for a newer, hotter contender.
A brief history of 2011's media infatuations:
Spark: November 2008. Palin has been more of a long-term crush since McCain's presidential loss put her at the top of all the early 2012 contender lists, but she knows how to play hard-to-get. She is by far the most skilled at stringing reporters along, and just as they start to lose interest, yanking the chain so they come running back. To keep it simple, let's stick to just this year's crushing on the Alaskan. Palin fights back against accusations that her violent metaphors caused the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Flirtation: Palin looks to be solidifying her notoriously fluid staff, replacing neocon foreign policy advisers with a more isolationist one, and hiring more scheduling staff.
Peak Infatuation: Memorial Day. The Palin family goes on a bus tour of important sites in American history that just so happens to go to New Hampshire, home of the first presidential primary. Palin's staff says the tour will later go to Iowa and South Carolina, two other key early voting states, making it look like Palin's running for president after all.
The Spark Fades: The Palin bus tour is postponed indefinitely. By the time it's restarted in August (heading to Iowa just as Michele Bachmann was maybe starting to get too much attention?), the press is getting tired of Palin's Jedi mind tricks. Google Trends's history nicely displays the slow, messy break-up between Palin and the media, complete with brief rekindlings that all parties probably now regret.
Spark: January. Huckabee leads in early polls of Republican primary voters.
Flirtation: March. Huckabee starts a family-values spat with pregnant-and-not-yet-married Natalie Portman.
Peak Infatuation: Early May. Huckabee holds a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., a sign he's more serious about running.
The Spark Fades: May 13. Many considered the big thing keeping Huckabee out of the race was his sweet gig at Fox News. When Huckabee announced he would announce whether he was running on his Fox show, it was clear he was staying out of the race. Given equal-time requirements, Fox would have had to pull the plug the minute Huckabee became a candidate?
Spark: February. At an event hosted by a gay Republican group, Trump says he might run for president.
Flirtation: March. Trump says he's just a teeny bit birther.
Peak Infatuation: Trump says he has proof Obama wasn't born in Hawaii, thanks to the research team he's dispatched to the island. The reality star shoots to the top of several polls.
Side-by-Side Laptop Use in Bed: April 27. Obama releases his long-form birth certificate. Conservatives rethink his candidacy. Trump pulls out of the race two weeks later. Almost monthly, his staffers float the possibility he'll get back in the race. But the media isn't interested -- everything that was one charming about him is now just annoying.
Spark: February. Then-Ambassador Huntsman is filmed at a pro-democracy protest in China. It's considered a sign he wants to show independence from the Obama administration ahead of a campaign against it.
Flirtation: April. Huntsman's stateside backers start pushing the storyline that Huntsman's not like your average Republican: He's cool. He listens to Led Zeppelin. He rides motorcycles.
Peak Infatuation: June. Huntsman announces he'll announce he's running for president in Liberty Park, New Jersey, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. It's the very same place Ronald Reagan make his announcement in 1980. Could Huntsman be the charismatic Reaganesque candidate that appeals to both conservatives and disaffected Democrats?
Texting the Ex: June 21. Huntsman makes his announcement, and he's boring. Plus the campaign makes a ton of embarrassing mistakes, like misspelling his name on a flyer.
Spark: April. Bachmann begins signalling she might run for president, and after spending the first part of the year being seen as a flake, the counterintuitive argument emerges that she should be taken more seriously than Palin
Flirtation: June 13. Bachmann beats expectations by performing well in the second Republican primary debate.
Peak Infatuation: August 13. Bachmann wins the Ames, Iowa, straw poll, showing her campaign has mad organizational skills and grassroots support.
Replacing Sex with Stuffed-Crust Pizza: August 14. Rick Perry shows up in Bachmann's birthplace, Waterloo, Iowa, and outshines her at a county Republican party dinner. Perry is seen as warm and engaging, while Bachmann is seen as aloof and concerned with her own celebrity. Sample lead sentence from Friday's Washington Post: "Is Michele Bachmann losing her buzz?"
Spark: Early June. Perry announces an explicitly Christian national prayer rally in August.
Flirtation: Late June. A Perry ally floats a potential presidential candidacy.
Infatuation: August 13. Perry declares his candidacy and then travels to the Iowa State Fair, where he impresses everyone with his accent and ability to charm old ladies.
The End of the Affair? TBD. The Republican establishment, nervous about Perry, begins pushing harder for Rep. Paul Ryan to run.