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Another missed opportunity to lead

Mitt Romney will join Donald Trump tonight in Las Vegas for a fundraiser, just a few days after the reality-show host reiterated his support for the ridiculous "birther" conspiracy theory. Asked by reporters yesterday whether Trump's ugly, borderline-racist antics gives him pause, Romney seemed unconcerned.

"You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in," Romney said. "But I need to get 50.1% or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people."

That's not much of a response. By Romney's reasoning, decency is irrelevant -- he should partner with anyone, no matter how vile, so long as it furthers his ambitions and gets him more votes.

The Obama campaign released a new video this morning, contrasting Romney's response to supporters' extremism with John McCain's.

There seem to be two broad angles to a story like this. The first is who Romney chooses to associate with. The Republican campaign says it rejects the conspiracy theory, but wants to benefit from ties to the conspiracy theorist.

Similarly, Romney aides insist their candidate shouldn't be held responsible for Trump's beliefs, but (a) the GOP campaign made the exact opposite case a month ago; and (b) when the former governor makes an appearance like this, it necessarily extends Romney's imprimatur to the man he chooses to partner with. Indeed, Trump isn't just some random supporter; he's a leading campaign surrogate, so his political tantrums are necessarily tied to the candidate that made him a key player on his team.

The second is that this is a test of Romney's capacity for leadership, and he's failing.

It's well within Romney's power to denounce Trump's idiocy and ally himself with more respectable figures -- he might even benefit politically if he did, earning new respect by standing on principle. That, however, would take some courage, which is a character trait the Republican candidate is lacking.

In other words, cowardice is once again getting the better of Mitt Romney, just as it did two weeks ago on gay adoptions.

The cowardice was also on display when the right disapproved of Richard Grenell. And when Rush Limbaugh went after Sandra Fluke. And when the campaign was asked for Romney's position on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. And when Romney wouldn't state his views on the Violence Against Women Act or a watered-down version of the DREAM Act. And on and on.

Romney has been presented with several opportunities to show he's capable of leadership, but he's so afraid of what conservatives might say, he just doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to do the right thing.

No Profile in Courage Award for you, Mitt.