A fun thought experiment, and a good way to refresh your appreciation for Romney after a tough couple of weeks. If you think Mitt’s been prone to getting thrown off-message, imagine what the media would do with a nominee on whom they’d already started muckraking and who was guilty of even worse verbal stumbles than Romney is.

Would have been a heck of a ride, though.

He focused on the tax code, energy and the national debt, while repeatedly bashing the mainstream media.

“Stupid people are ruining America, and we’ve got to take it back,” he said.

Cain told members of the media after the speech that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s recent “47 percent” comment was a “non-story” being blown out of proportion by the media. But Cain said he would have been doing better if he was the nominee, saying that he’d probably have a “substantial lead” on President Barack Obama at this point.

“The reason is quite simple: I have some depth to my ideas,” he said.

I don’t know whether he’s “deeper” than Romney but Cain’s 9-9-9 pitch was admirably concrete and clear vis-a-vis Mitt’s 59-point plans. My sense is that he would have connected better with the middle class too — although so would virtually anyone else in the field. And yet, for the reasons noted up top (as well as Romney’s organizational and fundraising advantages), it’s an awfully safe bet that Cain wouldn’t be as close as Mitt is now. That’s one of the big consolations whenever I feel frustrated about Romney’s campaign, in fact: For all his faults, my gut reaction is that none of his rivals from the primaries would have done any better and quite a few of them would have been doing a lot worse. (No doubt Ann Romney feels the same way, which helps explain some of her irritation at Mitt’s Beltway critics.) Santorum would have been better on the trail but his organization was much weaker and the media would have slashed him twice as deeply as Romney for his social conservatism. The “war on women” crap” would have been even shriller than it is now, as hard as that is to imagine. On paper, Pawlenty would have been more difficult to demonize than Romney because none of the left’s class-warfare ploys would work well against him, but how are we supposed to take him seriously as an alternative when he couldn’t get past the Ames straw poll? If the goal, purely and simply, is beating Obama, then yeah, I think Mitt had the best chance in a weak primary field. Anyone feel otherwise? I’m interested in hearing readers’ counterarguments in the comments.