It is entirely possible that Mitt Romney will finally turn the corner tonight with a smashing win in Illinois and remove all reasonble doubt that he’s going to be the 2012 presidential nominee. Yesterday I more or less predicted that would happen, and last night Nate Silver weighed in with a far better documented argument for the same result.

But I betcha that even if Romney wins Illinois comfortably, and begins padding his already formidable delegate lead, we’re going to hear some skepticism about his ability to “seal the deal,” because he’s already blown so many opportunities to do so. And so the question, which has a obvious bearing on the general election as well, will return: has Romney run an incompetent campaign?

You can certainly argue either way, but my latest column at TNR concludes that most of Romney’s trouble has come from the inherent difficulty of any multi-cycle candidate keeping up with a party rapidly in ideological transition–particularly when said candidate has a richly deserved reputation for “flip-flopping” that places an outside limit on the reinventions he can undertake. My conclusion:

Sure, Team Mitt has made strategic mistakes, most notably the negligence that enabled Rick Santorum to re-emerge as a serious candidate after Romney’s decisive wins in Florida and Nevada. But there really isn’t much of a blueprint for a candidate in Romney’s position—unless you go all the way back to 1964, when a similar radicalization of the GOP occurred and conventional Republicans were similarly thrown off-balance. And if Mitt Romney wins the nomination in a year when his party seems to long for another Barry Goldwater, the last thing his campaign should be accused of is incompetence.

So as Republicans raise a lukewarm glass of flat drugstore bubbly tonight to their less-than-adored sort-of-nominee, give the guy his due. Any plausible GOP nominee this year would have had to ride the tiger and taken some serious falls.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.