Political campaigns, especially those for president, are an amalgam of extremely savvy political consultants, the most sophisticated polling operations, keenly oiled fundraising machines, legions of loyal volunteers and very, very smart media advisers.
Nothing is left to chance — except for the possibility the candidate will manage to step on his tongue.
You can have the most elaborate political machine in the world, and it can quickly turn into "the Last Guffaw" if the chap at the head of the ticket suddenly decides to go all Marie Antoinette on everyone.
Until a few days ago, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had been campaigning as if he were stumping to become commodore of his yacht club — low-key, cautious, circumspect and about as spontaneous as a North Korean May Day parade.
Then came the release of a surreptitiously recorded speech before a swanky group of Florida high rollers, in which Romney essentially wrote off 47 percent of the electorate as good-for-nothing, non-taxpaying freeloaders living off government handouts.
There's a winning strategy for you — portraying nearly 50 percent of the body politic as big moochers.
And yes, that cacophonous thunderclap you just heard were the foreheads of the entire Romney campaign team hitting the headquarters conference table.
It is probably small comfort to the Republicans that Romney is hardly the first candidate to experience a major brain infarction on the stump. Who can ever forget Gerald Ford insisting that Eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination, or Jimmy Carter admitting he consulted daughter Amy on nuclear weapons strategy, or Dan Quayle comparing himself to John Kennedy?
And of course, there was Michael Dukakis responding to how he would react if his wife had been brutally raped and murdered as if he were pondering a piece of lint on his suit.
Romney's obsessive-compulsive effort to say as little as possible that anyone will remember comes naturally. He must be mindful that his father's presidential hopes cratered after he returned from a trip to Vietnam claiming to have been "brainwashed" and immediately was tagged as "the Manchurian Candidate." That doesn't look good on a yard sign.
Between the Romney campaign and the Gulfstreams of wealthy benefactors like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in what could well turn out to be the "John Carter" of the electoral college.
All candidates have flaws and shortcomings. For Romney, the 800-pound Baccarat crystal goblet in the room is the accusation that he is a wealthy, out-of-touch, plutocratic dilettante who doesn't give a rat's patootie about the great unwashed. Read: you.
Romney could have said plenty of other ditzy things without the resulting media mosh pit casting him as John Galt, only without the sense of compassion. Instead he opted to play precisely to type as a wealthy, out-of-touch, plutocratic dilettante who doesn't give a flying fig or know very much about 50 percent of the nation he claims he wants to lead.
He's "Arthur" — minus the hangover.
Oh, sure, Romney attempted to recover from his self-portrait as the Simon Legree of swing states by insisting he really does think poor people are the cat's pajamas.
Why, some of his best friends know poor people.
But apologies aren't Romney's problem. Repetition is.
In the course of some brief remarks, Romney managed to trump all his highly paid political strategists and all the money infused into his campaign by handing President Barack Obama and his camp manna from heaven in opposition research and advertising material.
You don't need to be a political scientist to figure out that between now and Election Day, voters are going to be exposed to commercial after commercial featuring Mitt Romney as the Sultan of Dressage, decrying the 47 percent dissolution to an approving group of swells.
Can Romney recover? With six weeks or so left in the campaign, that's a millennium in politics. And it's always possible Obama may show up for the debates and decide to answer every question in pig Latin.
You never know.
In the meantime, perhaps you've noticed the candidate has started to keep his campaign appearances to a minimum. That only makes sense.
There's always the possibility Romney might say something. No good can come from this.
You gotta feel for the poor guy.