As millions of Republican voters cast ballots on Super Tuesday, many are no doubt wondering how the GOP managed to squander a 2010 electoral victory into such a mistake-riddled 2012 presidential campaign.
I'm not a Republican, so you can take the following comments with plenty of grains of salt, but as a former White House aide and veteran of several political campaigns, I'm quite frankly shocked and stunned how badly the Republicans have campaigned this year.
That doesn't mean the Democrats will win, but at times it seems as though the Republicans have been trying to lose this election. It's only March, but here are the 10 biggest mistakes I've seen so far in the 2012 Republican campaign.
10. Treating Donald Trump as a serious candidate.
The problem: If you don't see a problem, that's part of the problem. No explanation necessary.
9. Michele Bachmann confuses John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
The problem: Local research.
Candidates usually receive a helpful briefing book before they go to a new state to campaign. In this case, either the campaign failed or the candidate forgot. Either way, it was a disaster.
8. Tim Pawlenty attacks Romney for "ObamneyCare" and then backs down in the debate.
The problem: Inconsistent messaging.
Pawlenty spent all week attacking Romney on the campaign stump, but when he stood on the stage with the Massachusetts governor he backed down like a school kid facing a bully. This only solidified his image as a weak candidate. Gingrich made a similar mistake when he softened his attack on Mitt Romney in the debates leading up to the Florida primary.
7. Newt Gingrich takes vacation tour of Greek Islands in the middle of the campaign.
The problem: Candidate discipline.
This vacation, later re-branded as a fact-finding mission, simply reinforced the image that Gingrich wasn't serious about running for office. Surprisingly, it didn't completely kill his campaign, even after losing several top staff members.
6. Holding an all-male panel to discuss women's birth control.
The problem: Insulating yourself from easy attack.
Although not a campaign event, this House hearing may have done immeasurable damage to the GOP brand. Just as President Obama was starting to take heat for the way the administration unveiled its decision on contraception coverage for insurance plans, Republicans shifted the focus away from Obama back to the Republican Party by failing to include women on a panel that dealt with women's health. Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne Jr. called it "political malpractice."
5. Herman Cain can't remember Libya.
The problem: Playing to the candidate's weakness.
Whose idea was it to send an untested and uninformed former pizza CEO into a videotaped newspaper editorial board meeting in a state that wasn't even holding a primary until five months later?
4. Rick Santorum loses his lead in Michigan by attacking sex, college and JFK.
The problem: Message discipline.
Santorum was cruising in the polls on his way to an upset victory in Romney's home state of Michigan, the cradle of the hard hit auto industry, when suddenly he started to deviate off message into the most divisive social issues. As a result, he lost what could have been his best chance to bring down the frontrunner.
3. Rick Perry can't remember which departments he wants to eliminate. Oops!
The problem: Debate prep.
Maybe his back was still hurting from surgery. Maybe he jumped into the debates too soon after announcing his candidacy. Or maybe he just got nervous and forgot what he was trying to say. Either way, Perry's stunning "oops" line provided the most memorable and embarrassing moment of the 20 debates we've had so far.
2. Romney's opponents fail to look on the Internet to find his 2009 op-ed advocating RomneyCare as a model for the nation.
The problem: Opposition research.
This has to be one of the most glaring and stunning examples of candidate incompetence I've seen in this campaign. All along, Romney's biggest weakness in the GOP primary race has been his health care plan. He dodged criticism by claiming he never wanted his state's plan to be used at the federal level. Remarkably, no one from any Republican campaign bothered to do a simple Internet search to find an op-ed Romney wrote just three years ago where he explicitly advocated using Massachusetts as a model for national reform.
1. Mitt Romney steps on his big message by speaking to an empty stadium about his wife's "couple of Cadillacs."
The problems: Bad advance work and message discipline.
The top three things that get covered in modern presidential campaigns are mistakes, attacks and pictures. In one fell swoop, Romney provided all of them. First, he gave the media an embarrassing picture by speaking to a virtually empty football stadium. That's inexcusably bad advance work, no matter what the explanation. Second, he stepped on the message of his big economic speech by talking about his wife's two Cadillacs, which reinforced a negative image of himself as an out-of-touch rich guy in the midst of a down economy. And third, he opened himself up to easy ridicule and attack by his opponents.
Romney's Ford Field fumble had to be one of the worst campaign mistakes I've seen from a major candidate since Mike Dukakis rode around in a tank in 1988 in Michigan. I know. I was there when he did it.