The Mitt Mirage

The Republican nominee can no longer say for certain what he believes in

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Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME; Romney: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

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The result was that assorted underemployed Republican talking heads and political consultants launched a schadenfreude feeding fiesta. The Romney campaign was inept, insubstantial, panicky, heading down the drain, they said, sounding almost as the Democrats did about Kerry in 2004. It was premature, of course. Kerry won the first debate with George W. Bush that year and made the race close for a minute or two. Romney could do the same this year; he might even win. The Obama cool train could suffer from exogenous setbacks. The economy could tank. October is sometimes a volatile month for the stock market. Joe Biden could run off with that biker woman who sat on his lap.

(PHOTOS: The Rich History of Mitt Romney)

But I suspect Romney won't do so well in the debates for the same reason that he didn't do so well on Meet the Press. It's hard to be effective when you're biting your tongue and swallowing your pride at the same time. Romney has dumbed himself down to fit a Republican Party that has become anachronistic, hateful and foolish. He has never once stood up to the party's extremist base in this campaign--not even when asked whether he would accept a deficit deal with $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in new revenues, not even on immigration and contraception, issues that sent women and Latinos scurrying toward the exits. His has been a shameful, shameless campaign. The public will occasionally turn out an incumbent President, but only when offered a real alternative. Mitt Romney has offered them only a mirage.

PHOTOS: On the Trail With Mitt Romney

TO READ JOE'S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

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