At this point in the morning yesterday, it looked like the biggest political screw-up of the day would be Rick Perry’s latest Birther flirtations. As it turns out, though as ridiculous as this was, it was eclipsed rather easily.

Mitt Romney visited a Republican campaign headquarters in Ohio, fighting tooth and nail to protect a Republican measure to undermine collective-bargaining right. The GOP presidential frontrunner, however, aware of the polls showing public opposition to the law, refused to endorse the law his party is trying to save.

This one incident reinforced the worst of the perceptions surrounding Romney. After all, what’s the knock on the former governor? He’s an unprincipled flip-flopper, who cares more about polls than convictions, and will say literally anything to advance his political ambitions. And in one swing through Ohio, Romney confirmed that his critics were right.

It wasn’t long before conservatives — some sympathetic to Romney, some not — were expressing their disgust. Here was the Club for Growth’s take, for example:

“The big problem many conservatives have with Mitt Romney is that he’s taken both sides of nearly every issue important to us. He’s against a flat tax, now he’s for it. He says he’s against ObamaCare, but was for the individual mandate and susbidies that are central to ObamaCare. He thinks that collective bargaining issues should be left for states to decide if he’s Ohio, but he took the opposite position when he was in New Hampshire. This is just another statement in a long line of statements that will raise more doubts about what kind of President Mitt Romney would be in the minds of many Republican primary voters.”

Soon after, other prominent far-right voices were equally incensed.

“Certainly if one of the Presidential candidates were to go to the state, show up, and were asked about it, we’d expect them to be supportive of both efforts,” said Brendan Steinhauser, the Federal and State Campaigns Director at FreedomWorks in an interview with TPM. “This is a no brainer for any of the Presidential candidate to get behind. We’re disappointed but not surprised in Romney’s lack of support.” […]

“This is a huge freaking deal,” wrote Red State founder Erick Erickson. “Playing it too safe is finally biting Romney in the rear end. He’s refused to call social security a Ponzi scheme. He’s refused to offer bold economic reform plans. He’s refused to address significant changes in entitlement reforms. His whole campaign has centered around tapioca.”

There were plenty of others offering similar condemnations.

Making matters slightly worse, Politico discovered that Romney actually endorsed the Ohio law in June, only to back off yesterday after seeing the polls. In other words, Romney is now refusing to express support for a key Republican policy that he’s already endorsed.

And as a strategic matter, if Romney reversed course again yesterday in response to the uproar, and re-endorsed the anti-collective-bargaining measure, he’d look even weaker.

I don’t know whose bright idea is was to send Romney to Ohio, have him rally the troops at a call center, and then refuse to support the policy they’re fighting for, but one thing appears certain: this unforced error is going to leave a mark.

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Steve Benen

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.