Yesterday, Mitt Romney demonstrated once again why he has such trouble with his party's base. The issue was a bill in Congress sponsored by Senator Roy Blunt, which would allow any employer who has any objection to any medication, procedure, or treatment—not just objections to ladies doing dirty things with their ladyparts, which is where this all started—to deny their employees insurance coverage for it. Let's say your boss thinks people with diabetes are fatties who deserve to get their feet amputated—no diabetes coverage! Or your boss is one of the nincompoops who thinks immunizations give kids autism—no coverage for immunizations!
Obviously, it's a truly awful idea, and when Romney was asked about it by an Ohio television host, he said, "I'm not for the bill. But, look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I'm not going there." What happened next was predictable: conservatives squawked, and Romney quickly reversed himself, saying he misunderstood the question, and now he totally, totally, totally supports Blunt's bill.
Maybe he did just misunderstand it. But the reason Romney gets into these pickles is that he just lacks an instinctive feel for what those Republican base voters he's so desperately trying to appeal to want to hear. Given the time to work out his rhetoric and a clear understanding of where the base's sympathy is, he'll deliver the proper message. But on his feet, when confronted with something he hasn't thought much about, his instincts don't lead him to that place.
And oh boy, do those base voters know it. That doesn't mean Romney won't get their votes eventually, as more and more of them realize they just have no alternative. But with every one of these incidents, he saps their enthusiasm for the general election, and reinforces his image as an unprincipled flip-flopper.
Which makes me wonder, what are the people on Team Romney thinking right now? Do they look at their candidate and say, "He'll get better?" Do they think they can finesse the character attacks the Obama campaign will make? Do they think that once the primaries are over and he doesn't have to pander to his party's nutball wing, these kinds of problems won't resurface? When you're working on a campaign, deluding yourself about your candidate's skills and chances comes with the territory. But they've got to be getting more and more worried, even as he stumbles his way toward the nomination.