Steve Chapman

Romney has also come up with an unpersuasive but not intolerable excuse for his health care reform plan, which is that it's suitable for Massachusetts and Massachusetts alone. This story is not enough to please Republicans, but it should serve to appease them.

Romney does not aspire to be the fellow at the party who enchants the girls with his dance moves and charm. He's more like the guy they settle on once all the other guys have passed out drunk, gotten distracted by a ball game or come on way too strong. He's not thrilling, but he's not a disaster.

It would help, though, if he could stop committing inexplicable mistakes. Weeks ago, he praised an Ohio ballot initiative to curb the collective bargaining rights of government employees. Then on Wednesday, on a trip to Cincinnati, he declined to take a position. Then, after taking fire, he endorsed it.

All Romney achieved was to remind everyone of his uncanny resemblance to a windsock. In The New York Review of Books, Christopher Benfey writes that when he asks Bay Staters about him, "I get a recurring response: Nixonian." They see him as slippery, smarmy and void of principles.

Is that enough for him to lose the nomination? Maybe not. He's trailing Cain among Republican voters in the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, but in a CNN/Time/ORC survey, he leads everyone in the four states that will vote first. Republicans are aflame with the idea of defeating Obama, and Romney may be the only candidate who could do that.

A Democratic insider told National Journal, "He can talk and chew gum at the same time, which puts him way ahead of the other candidates." One anonymous GOP bigwig added, "Republicans are beginning to realize that this is a choice between Romney and the unelectable."

If it hurts to be called Nixonian, Romney has this consolation: Nixon won.

Steve Chapman

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

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