Perot stubbornly ignored the counsel of his own advisors, micromanaged all aspects of his campaign, failed to stay on message, and soon lost control of the narrative of his candidacy. And all of this was prior to his erratic behavior in the late summer and fall – when he dropped out then dropped back in. The lesson from the Perot campaign is that even a political climate akin to a perfect storm – with an electorate dominated by disaffected voters looking for somebody to break through the old categories and govern via common sense – is not enough. You need a solid, sensible campaign operation headed by an able candidate.

Such campaigns are lacking this time around on the Republican side; instead, the GOP field seems to be Mitt Romney plus the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. All of the would-be conservative alternatives to the former Massachusetts governor – Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and now Cain – have made serious errors or gaffes. Conservatives should not celebrate these mistakes. Screwing up during a campaign whose rituals are absurd and even contemptible is not raging against the machine; it is just screwing up.

Believe me, I am not happy about any of this — but it is what it is. Yes, the political game as it is played in 2011 is terrible and in need of major reforms. But if you want to win, you need somebody who knows how to play it. Otherwise, you end up doing as well as Goldwater or Perot, which is to say that you lose by a very wide margin.