He was handed a golden opportunity to do so the other day at a major fundraising event also attended by his celebrity backer
Mr. Romney had already said that he believes President Obama was born in Hawaii, as an official state birth certificate has documented. But he declined, when confronted by reporters, to rebuff Mr. Trump, observing, "I don't agree with all the people who support me. ... But I need to get 50.1 percent or more." Instead, he thanked Mr. Trump "for twisting the arms that it takes to bring a fundraiser together."
This had the potential for what has come in politics to be known as "a Sister Souljah moment." The reference is to the way candidate
Mr. Clinton's attack was widely seen as a counterintuitive tactic, a willingness to court white voters by criticizing a favorite of black voters as he was fighting for the Democratic nomination against civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
Now, here was an ideal opportunity for Mr. Romney to seize a similar moment to chastise Mr. Trump for keeping afloat the so-called "birther" issue against Mr. Obama.
Instead, Mr. Romney fell back on the old "everyone's entitled to his own opinion" dodge, adding his acknowledgment that winning came first, no matter what the cost. The Obama camp immediately asked: "If Mitt Romney lacks the backbone to stand up to a charlatan like Donald Trump, because he's so concerned about lining his campaign's pockets, what does that say about the kind of president he would be?"
Mr. Romney's limp response was in contrast to Mr. Obama's own choice to seize a "Sister Souljah moment" presented to him in his 2008 presidential campaign. It came in incendiary remarks made by his Chicago pastor, the Rev.
When a recent plan to resurrect Mr. Obama's old ties to Mr. Wright was drawn up and submitted to the Romney campaign, it was wisely disavowed and disowned by Mr. Romney, obviously aware that it could backfire on him. But Mr. Romney's tepid response to Mr. Trump's reiterations that Obama's Hawaii birth certificate might not be "authentic" was a missed opportunity to disavow the publicity-hungry Mr. Trump himself.
Mr. Romney's own candid rationale for not cutting Mr. Trump loose seemed to be that he's willing to do whatever it takes to win the presidency. But it took him a long time to shake off a weak field of contenders because so many primary and caucus voters doubted his personal convictions. Throwing Mr. Trump over the side might have persuaded these doubters that he had convictions of his own.
From all recent polling, Mr. Romney has made good headway in consolidating support within the
But he remains a cautious, low-risk candidate whose chances of success rest in large part on the perception that Mr. Obama is mired in economic doldrums. Despite some signs that recovery is inching forward, the Romney campaign seems willing continue to cast him as Mr. Fix-it and not give offense to anybody, including Donald Trump. Except, of course, to Barack Obama.