Fortunately, there are several available: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich would all qualify. Any one of them gives establishment Republicans nightmares — as presidential nominees, they would not only lose, but hurt GOP candidates all down the ballot, while potentially doing long-term damage to the party's image.
And Republican leaders fear it could happen. They watched as primary voters chose an array of lunatics in the 2010 elections: Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, Rand Paul, Christine O'Donnell, and Mike Lee, just to take the Senate examples.
So right now, those establishment Republicans are divided in their support — but if someone like Bachmann comes out of Iowa riding high, they'll rally around Romney to stop her.
Romney needs to torpedo serious candidates like Pawlenty and Barbour — and you can be sure he will — but he'd also be smart to identify which wingnut candidate is getting a spark of life, and start feeding that flame.
4. PREPARE TO RECEIVE Romney might not like the comparison, but of all the examples to model his plan after, the best might be another tall, good-looking, wealthy Bay Stater: John Kerry.
As late as mid-January 2004, three weeks before the caucuses, Kerry looked like he was going to get buried in Iowa, behind Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, and possibly even John Edwards and Wes Clark. That showing would have solidified his doom in New Hampshire, where his polling had also plummeted, and that would have been that.
But when it came time to commit, voters were ready to come back — and Kerry was ready for them, with a strong, smart organization, a polished and consistent message, and the goodwill from many months of retail campaigning in the cold Iowa and New Hampshire winter.
Laying groundwork in the eighth or 15th primary state, as appears to be his long-slog plan, will be moot if he loses Iowa and New Hampshire. To prevent that from happening, he needs to do that slogging in those states, even in these dark days.
READ: "Choosing sides: New Hampshire's GOP operatives have lined up for the 2012 primary, and are ready to do battle" by David Bernstein
To read the "Talking Politics" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @dbernstein.