Let us praise Mitt Romney. Seriously.Romney takes a lot of hits for shifting his positions – the anti-tax warriors at Club for Growth assailed him yesterday for his “unshakeable reputation as a flip-flopper” – but he warrants a shout out for something he said at a town hall event last Friday. If not for the Anthony Weiner and Sarah Palin embarrassments, I would have referenced it sooner. When asked to spell out his stance on climate change, he got real and said this:”I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course. But I believe the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that…so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.”Give this guy a few props for political cajones! Given the prevailing sentiment among Republicans – most of whom deny that (a) the earth is warming, and that (b) humans are a factor – Romney was seriously counter-pandering. And he was being doggedly consistent as well, because he wrote, in a 2010 book, “I believe that climate change is occurring – the reduction in size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor.”In a rational world, Romney’s remarks would not be considered gutsy – after all, NASA scientists first warned Congress about global warming and the human factor way back in 1988; the first decade of the 21st century supplanted the ’90s decade as the hottest on record; the next report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, slated for 2013, will reportedly warn of a warming acceleration – but, given the denial mantra within the Republican base, Romney qualifies as a profile in courage. Hence, these questions: Can somebody who sides with the reality-based community, somebody who (gasp) respects science, actually win the Republican presidential nomination? Are conservative global-warming deniers capable of parking their beliefs and supporting the Republican who (according to several new polls) has the best shot at beating Barack Obama?Romney appears to have calculated that it’s OK to talk like a grown-up about climate change, to articulate what is basically a general-election message – notwithstanding the findings of a recent Pew survey, which reported that only 38 percent of Republicans (and only 23 percent of tea partyers) think the earth is warming, and that only 16 percent (and only eight percent of tea partyers) think it’s caused by humans.Clearly, Romney believes that standing up for science will not be a deal-breaker. Among his likely rivals, only Jon Huntsman appears to have made the same determination; as the ex-Utah governor and ex-Obama ambassador remarked recently (and sanely), “If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer, we’d listen to them…I respect science and the professionals behind the science, so I tend to think it’s better left to the science community.”So perhaps Romney has more spine than commonly assumed. He has (mostly) defended his Massachusetts health care reform, even though grassroots Republicans reportedly oppose his law by roughly 2-1. Months ago, he stiffed the GOP’s sizable insanity wing when he distanced himself from the birthers. Can he break with his own party on so many hot-button issues, dodge the litmus tests and Palin potshots and Fox/talk show infauxtainment attacks, and still seize the prize? It’s rare for a Republican front runner to be so often at odds with the base, but, given his daunting campaign war chest, the potency of the economic issue, and the paucity of dazzling rivals, it is entirely possible that what fails to kill Romney may only serve to make him stronger.