His difficulty locking down the nomination is by now obvious, but Romney's $10,000 bet gaffe during Saturday's debate is just the latest evidence that assumptions of his superior electability were probably misguided. On paper, he should be a strong general election candidate: he doesn't come across as a conservative ideologue, he's relatively telegenic, he's capable of tailoring his words depending on the moment, and, most crucially, he seemed to be a well-disciplined candidate—a crucial attribute for a candidate seeking to unseat an incumbent president.
Lately, however, Romney has repeatedly chipped away at that image of self-discipline. Consider:
- The latest poster child of his impetuousness, his offer of a $10,000 bet, completely oblivious to the fact that most people would see it as the kind of thing a sneering rich kid would do to taunt his "lesser" peers.
- The fact that he chose to engage so aggressively with Rick Perry in the first place, given that it's Newt Gingrich—not Perry—who is Romney's most serious competitor.
- Similarly, his ill-advised decision to get into an extended back-and-forth with Jon Huntsman over Afghanistan during the November 22 debate on CNN. Huntsman is running so low in the polls that he was excluded from Saturday's debate, yet Romney elevated Huntsman's stature by allowing himself to get baited into an argument that he should have avoided.
- Remember when he got physical with Rick Perry earlier in the debate season? He got lucky because Perry was in the process of blowing up his own campaign with his "heartless" comment as well as his general buffoonery, but Romney never should have touched one of his opponents.
- While I'm on that debate, remember Mitt whining for "Anderson" to make sure he was given enough time to rebut his attackers? Compare that to the way Gingrich handled debate moderators.
- I think it was in August when Romney allowed hecklers to get the better of him, prompting him to make his infamous "Corporations are people, my friend" comment. That's the kind of red meat for political opponents that you'd never expect to see from a true model of self-discipline.
- In general, despite his image as being someone who has a way with words, Romney has shown a tendency to say some pretty dumb things when he's not on script: calling himself "unemployed," saying that $3.45 per gallon of gas is "a good price," and proposing to let the housing market "hit the bottom" as a solution to the foreclosure crisis immediately jump to mind.
Keep in mind that none of these examples touch on Romney's flabbergasting record of flip-flops. But when you combine is willingness to say anything to get a vote with his seeming inability to avoid saying things that cost him votes, it's not all that shocking that—as George Will pointed out on ABC's This Week yesterday morning—Mitt Romney has lost 17 of the 22 primary and general elections in which he has been a candidate. Yet despite that lousy record, Mitt Romney may still be the Republican Party's most-disciplined candidate—and their best shot at defeating President Obama. But that says more about the weakness of the Republican field than it does about the strength of Mitt Romney.