And when he has trained his artillery on ultra-conservative opponents, it has usually been from the right. He blasted Rick Perry as soft on immigration. He did the same to Gingrich, and also hit him for being insufficiently pro-business. This week, he criticized Rick Santorum for past support of earmarks.
Romney needs to assume, as Baker should have, that in the end those conservatives would vote for him regardless, in their desire to oust the incumbent.
9_ Offering no personal rationale
It is the question that befuddled Ted Kennedy at the start of his 1980 presidential campaign: why do you want to be president?
Kennedy's inability to articulate an answer gave the impression that the office was something he felt entitled to, rather than something he yearned to use.
Romney is saddled with the same aura. People point to his personal ambition, or his desire to accomplish what his father failed to do. But nobody I talk to— whether they support him or not — can say what Romney's view of his presidency looks like.
Baker, who had been considered a likely gubernatorial candidate as long as Romney has been seen striving for the White House, had the same problem.
In a way, this is the accumulation of all the other errors listed above. All of these false steps are burying whatever lurks in Baker and Romney's hearts, leaving them cautiously tiptoeing through a campaign script, rather than expressing themselves.
Both men may have been convinced that none of this mattered — that the incumbent's failures would be enough to ensure their own victory. Baker demonstrated that, to the contrary, voters still need a reason to vote for the opponent. That's a lesson Romney has not learned.
To read the Talking Politics blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dbernstein.