With the race for the Republican presidential nomination in full swing, the candidates aren’t just being confronted by voters, reporters, and potential donors — they’re being confronted by lots of pledges.

The goal, from the pledges’ authors, is to lock candidates in to a specific agenda from which they will not and cannot deviate. The measures are extremely restrictive, and that’s the point — this is about getting candidates to commit to certain courses of action, regardless of circumstances or public needs, before they even take office.

So why in the world would candidates sign them? Because the pledges’ authors tend to be powerful and influential, and failing to sign makes a primary victory that much more difficult.

Grover Norquist’s ridiculous anti-tax pledge is probably the most famous, but Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a kingmaker in right-wing circles, is pushing his own measure called the Cut, Cap, and Balance pledge, which has been endorsed by Pawlenty, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, and Cain.

Yesterday, the Republican frontrunner joined them.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) will become the latest signatory to a pledge being promoted by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) as a litmus test for presidential candidates.

Romney indicated on Capitol Hill that he’s a supporter of the new “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge, and his campaign confirmed Wednesday that he intends to sign it.

This is important for a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious is that Romney is adding his name to a truly insane proposal. DeMint’s pledge says that the federal debt limit must not be extended unless Congress approves massive spending cuts, enforceable spending caps, and a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Romney, who used to reject “gimmickry” like this garbage, is actually willing to put his name on a pledge that would likely cause national default. This isn’t just a right-wing move; it’s total madness.

The other point to keep in mind is that Romney apparently felt this was necessary. He’s the ostensible frontrunner, but if he were confident that none of his rivals could catch him, Romney wouldn’t be sucking up to Jim DeMint; he’d be telling Jim DeMint to suck up to him.

Signing this pledge, in other words, is a sign of weakness and cowardice. Romney didn’t want to sign it, but he lacks the confidence to listen to his instincts. It’s almost pathetic.

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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.