If finger-pointing magnate Donald Trump was going to bet a campaign on Obama's reluctance to disclose official documents, he would have done better to demand the release of the president's mysteriously secret college transcripts and medical records rather than his birth certificate. In the debates, the audiences liked what former Sen. Rick Santorum had to say, regretting only that it came out of the mouth of Rick Santorum.
Rep. Michele Bachmann once soared as the anti-Romney and then crashed when 90 percent of her statements seemed courageous and inspired -- but 10 percent sounded kind of weird.
Then came the most promising anti-Romney alternative, job-creating Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He looked as presidential as Romney but immediately proved even more wooden in the debates. His "brain-freeze" moments were made worse by occasional goofy explanations that seemed most un-Texan.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were always crowd favorites, and they're certainly hard-charging conservatives. Yet at some point, both realized that their scant years in office were comparable, in theory, to the thin resume of Obama when he entered the presidency clueless.
Rep. Ron Paul's shrill talk on fiscal sobriety is as refreshing as his 1930s isolationist foreign policy is creepy. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is a sort of weak Romney doppelganger, raising the same paradox that money, looks, polish and moderation this year are cause for suspicion, not reassurance.
Many like businessman Herman Cain's straight-talking pragmatism. Yet more are worried that he might not know that China is a nuclear power, or that we recently joined the British and French in bombing Libya. By now, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich knows almost everything about everything. But lots of Newt's original -- and now abandoned -- positions were as liberal as Romney's. And not all that long ago, he seemed as brilliant and glib -- and recklessly self-destructive -- as his contemporary and antagonist, Bill Clinton.
To beat an ever-more-vulnerable Obama, Republicans keep coming back to someone who resembles a Romney, with strengths in just those areas where Obama is so demonstrably weak: prior executive experience as a governor, success in and intimacy with the private sector, a past fully vetted, and an unambiguous belief in the exceptional history and future of the United States.
In short, if Republicans are happy in theory that Mitt Romney could probably beat Obama, they seem just as unhappy in fact that first they have to nominate him.