The varying degrees of candidate ‘flubs’

With so many ridiculous candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination, it’s hardly a surprise that the humiliating-gaffe-per-day ratio is getting pretty high. The New York Times had a piece today noting that the GOP field has “served comedians a full platter of laughs this year,” to the party’s detriment.

[T]he embarrassing moments are piling up, and some veteran Republicans are beginning to wonder whether the cumulative effect weakens the party brand, especially in foreign policy and national security, where Republicans have typically dominated Democrats.

“It is an ‘Animal House.’ It’s a food fight,” said Kenneth Duberstein, a chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan. “Honestly, the Republican debates have become a reality show. People have to be perceived as being capable of governing this country, of being the leader of the free world.”

With candidates like Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann unable to control themselves, these “flubs” are coming so quickly it’s tough to keep up with them all. The sense that the Republican presidential field has become something of a joke is hard to avoid.

But this was the part of the piece that stood out for me.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, noted that Mitt Romney, Jon M. Huntsman Jr. and Newt Gingrich had not been prone to substantive mistakes, especially on foreign policy.

“It’s one of the challenges that someone faces who has not been in public office dealing with these issues every day like the rest of us have,” Ms. Collins said. “I can understand how it happens, but certainly we do expect that anyone who wants to be commander in chief will ultimately understand these issues very well.”

Collins is wrong. Romney has absolutely been prone to substantive mistakes, especially on foreign policy. In Saturday night’s debate, the former Massachusetts governor badly flubbed the basics of U.S. policy in Iran; he effectively called for an insane trade war with China; he made wildly unrealistic remarks about Afghanistan that are at odds with the judgments of all U.S. military leaders; and proceeded to be both for and against withdrawal timetables. All of this came against a backdrop of years of incoherence from Romney on foreign policy.

The problem is, Romney’s blatant screw-ups just aren’t funny enough to get the kind of attention that Perry’s and Cain’s screw-ups get. If this were a real Republican presidential field, filled with qualified and capable candidates, Romney would look like an idiot, making rookie mistakes and claims that don’t make any sense, but because he speaks in complete sentences and is surrounded by misfits, Romney’s errors go almost entirely overlooked. Indeed, Susan Collins is comfortable praising Romney for avoiding these mistakes, and the New York Times runs the claim without scrutiny, as if it were plainly true.

It’s not.