SO MUCH FOR ROMNEY’S COMING OUT PARTY…. The Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity hosted a high-profile cattle call in New Hampshire last night for GOP presidential hopefuls, and it was Mitt Romney’s unofficial debut as a 2012 candidate.

The verdict: the guy still isn’t ready for primetime.

YouTube video

During a brief Q&A after an eight-minute speech, Romney was asked about his economic message. He replied, “I just can’t help but notice that — you remember that during the Ronald Reagan-Jimmy Carter debates, that Ronald Reagan came up with this great thing about the Misery Index? And he hung that around Jimmy Carter’s neck and that had a lot to do with Jimmy Carter losing. Well we’re going to have to hang the Obama Misery Index around his neck. And I’ll tell you, the fact that you’ve got people in this country really squeezed with gasoline getting so expensive, with commodities getting so expensive, families are having a hard time making ends meet. So we’re going to have to do talk about that, and housing foreclosures and bankruptcies and higher taxation. We’re going to hang him with that — uh, so to speak, metaphorically, with, uh, you have to be careful these days, I learned that.”

As one might imagine, it was the part of the event that received the most attention.

I realize that Romney wasn’t literally talking about committing an act of violence against the president. “We’re going to hang him with that” is intended to be an expression, so it’s probably best not to reach for the fainting couch. Still, it was a very dumb thing to say — especially given the racial subtext, against a backdrop of recent racially-motivated criticism of Obama from the right — and Romney knew it was a very dumb thing to say, as evidenced by his near-panic after the words left his mouth.

But even putting that aside, the whole argument was a mess. Romney mentions Reagan, hoping Republicans will forget he didn’t like Reagan in the ’80s and wasn’t even a Republican at the time. Romney mentions “higher taxation,” which is absurd given how much Obama has cut taxes for everyone.

And Romney mentioned higher gas prices at a right-wing event hosted by Americans for Prosperity, which just so happens to be financed by oil industry money.

As part of the same forum, the former Massachusetts governor was asked about his health care reform law, which is nearly identical to the Affordable Care Act, and despite welcoming the question, he struggled to answer it directly.

This guy is the Republican frontrunner? Romney’s the best the GOP has to offer in presidential politics?

Between last night’s performance and his argument that we’re in the midst of “peacetime,” Romney seems to have a long way to go.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.