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Kerry won the nomination in 2004 because he seemed more grownup than Dean, but he was never a very strong candidate because he never could figure out where he really stood on the most important issue: the war in Iraq. Romney faces similar challenges with the federal-budget deficit and the Republican tendency toward scientific troglodytism. He rose to one challenge recently when asked about evolution: "I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe," he said. "And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body." This is a philosophical synthesis that most sophisticated nonatheists have settled upon. It may not please the biblical literalists who clutter the GOP, but it shouldn't completely alienate them either.
Romney missed a much bigger opportunity on the federal budget. He was wise to stay quiet during the debt-ceiling deliberations, a position that I assumed was leading toward an inevitable: it's a lousy deal, but we needed to do something about default. Instead, he caved to Tea Party pressure and, at the last minute, came out against the deal. He pandered even more egregiously in the August Republican debate, when he followed the flock in refusing to support a deficit-reduction deal that would feature a 10-to-1 ratio of budget cuts to revenue increases. He could have said, "Wait a minute, guys, 10 to 1 is a pretty good deal. And the public definitely wants a deal. There's nothing wrong with closing a few tax loopholes, especially if we're eliminating 10 times as much government waste."
That sort of calculation requires innate political skills that Romney may not have. He may not need those skills to win the nomination--if Perry blows up, Romney is the default position (unless Jon Huntsman catches fire in New Hampshire). But general elections are different. The superior politician always wins. Think about it. Always.
To read Joe's blog posts, go to time.com/swampland