Steve Chapman

Republican candidates for president have been busy for weeks now, laboring strenuously to give the 2012 nomination to Mitt Romney. And he keeps trying to give it back.

The former Massachusetts governor could walk to next year's GOP convention without touching the ground, treading exclusively on the bodies of rivals who have fallen on their faces. He's the equivalent of the Alabama Crimson Tide, playing a schedule heavy on Southeastern Louisiana and Middle Tennessee State.

He should be running up the score every week. Instead, he keeps finding ways to keep his opponents in the game.

Look at the opposition. Rick Perry has proved so inept in the debates that he may bail out of some. Herman Cain can't understand the meaning of "pro-life" or his own tax plan. Michele Bachmann enjoyed a burst of popularity that evaporated when voters got to know her.

Newt Gingrich never enjoyed a burst of popularity and never will. Jon Huntsman might, but only if he runs in the Democratic primaries. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are proving that ideological purity is incompatible with political success. It's the Seven Dwarves in search of Snow White.

This campaign was custom-designed for Romney. Having run before, he had presumptive credibility. Some possibly formidable contenders -- Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence -- chose to sit this race out.

Romney possesses other assets. He has a record of achievement in both the public and private sectors. He's fully acquainted with substantive issues. He's familiar to Republican voters from his race against John McCain four years ago.

He's turned out to be the best debater, thanks to a facility with the spoken word that is not universal in the field. He shows a talent for repelling attacks while keeping a smile on his face.

He brings in more cash than a casino on payday. He makes Mormonism as threatening as Fig Newtons. He looks like a million bucks.

True, he has been guilty of occasional deviations from orthodox Republican theology, but so were McCain (the 2008 nominee) and Bob Dole (1996). His heresies on gay rights, abortion and gun control required extensive displays of penance, which he performed the last time out.

Besides, the GOP actually tends to nominate candidates closer to the party's center than its right edge. George W. Bush, remember, ran as a "compassionate conservative," to distinguish himself from the other kind.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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