Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota may not be ready for the Oval Office, but she's been a feisty challenger not afraid to take on Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry. She will emerge from the primary with more authority than she had when she entered the race.
Radio talk show host Herman Cain won points with his unique personal success story in the corporate world, no small feat for a black man who grew up in the Jim Crow South. It is sad that Cain's campaign started to melt down after a barrage of sexual harassment allegations, because other factors should have sunk his candidacy. Cain lacked the political experience to run for the highest office in the land. GOP fans might have liked his plain talk, but they were fooling themselves if they thought a political rookie could win in November.
For a while, it looked as if Perry, with his 11 years of experience as Texas governor, could win the nod. Then Perry got into the debates, and he didn't catch on. So he started flailing -- hitting gays in the military one day, a full-time Congress the next -- in a manner that appeared gratuitous and scattershot.
Then there's Perry's amateur-hour failure to muster the 10,000 signatures needed to qualify for the Virginia ballot on Super Tuesday.
Former House Speaker Gingrich also failed to qualify for the Virginia ballot -- and he lives in Virginia. Worse, his campaign director quickly announced that he and Gingrich agreed that the fiasco was analogous to Pearl Harbor -- a sneak attack that left 2,403 dead. Later, Gingrich explained to the media that his campaign had hired a fraudster who had submitted 1,500 "false signatures." This is not the crack team you want running the White House.
GOP primary voters might have told pollsters that they liked Gingrich because he was at the top of his game during debates. But Republicans didn't like the Gingrich package. They didn't like that Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant with a role in the nation's housing meltdown, paid Newt Inc. about $1.6 million. They had begun to remember how much work it became for House Republicans to carry the ethically challenged Speaker Gingrich through his verbal gaffes and ethics probes.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas could win Iowa, but he cannot win the GOP primary. Republican voters understand that -- however much they may want to downsize the federal government -- a candidate who wants to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service, capital gains taxes and the Transportation Security Administration is not going to beat President Barack Obama.
Now it may be former Sen. Rick Santorum's turn to be the GOP's shiny new toy. While Santorum is a bedrock social conservative, he also is strong on foreign policy. Early on, Santorum was the best challenger to Paul's quirky views on Iran. Santorum argues that his ability to win two elections in Pennsylvania shows that he can attract independent voters. Alas, he lost his Senate seat to Democrat Bob Casey in 2006.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is the Republican whom Democratic readers cite as credible. Why? Because he insulted the GOP base -- not a smart thing for a candidate to do -- when he tweeted, "I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."
Thing is, Huntsman isn't even a strong moderate. During an August debate, Huntsman raised his hand to join all the other Republicans in pledging to walk away from a deficit reduction deal that would raise $1 in taxes for every $10 in spending cuts. In a recent head-to-head debate with Gingrich, Huntsman had a chance to take on the former speaker. Instead, Huntsman cozied up to the Newter. The man has no fire.
Romney emerges as the survivor, the Republican who has endured the spotlight under which others withered. In debates, he has been judicious of word. He's lived in the pressure cooker, and still voters do not question his personal character.
He has written a thoughtful book, "No Apology," which lays out the case for American exceptionalism and against European-style government. Without ignoring the sometimes painful costs, Romney makes the case for the free market and makes it well.
Former Ambassador to France Howard Leach was a Romney supporter in 2008, but he waited until recently to endorse Romney for 2012. "I delayed supporting him just to see who the potential candidates were and how they might stack up," Leach told me. After looking around and considering Romney's record as a manager -- he turned around the Utah Olympics -- Leach concluded, "Romney is head and shoulders above the other candidates."
I remain unconvinced that Romney can beat President Obama in November, but at this moment, he looks to be the only Republican in the race with a chance.
Oddly, the movement of Romney's positions could help him in November. Yes, he was pro-abortion rights in 1994 and now opposes abortion rights. Yes, he brought Romneycare to Massachusetts and now he promises to issue Obamacare waivers for all 50 states. On the bright side, Obamaland won't be able to paint Romney as a rigid ideologue.
Most important: I don't think Romney will embarrass me.