How is it possible for a competent and fluent person such as Mitt Romney, a man who founded a successful private equity business, saved the Salt Lake Olympics, and was governor of a state, Massachusetts – turning round its finances and, in the process, showing glimmers of enlightenment in health and gun control – to make such a complete and utter Horlicks of his visit to London on the eve of the Olympics? All that is required of any foreign personage is to speed along the line of greeters, murmuring: "Jolly good show – carry on."
Instead of which, in an interview with CBS, the soon-to-be-crowned Republican candidate cast doubt about the security in London (old story); raised the possible strike of customs and immigration officers (becoming a dead story at that moment) and questioned whether the British public was fully behind the event. He displayed the sure touch of a Tourettes sufferer.
The American sprinter Carl Lewis said: "Seriously, some Americans shouldn't leave the country", which is true of those who exhibit the sort of nationalist bombast that lies beneath Romney's pronouncements on the world. The spectacular opening ceremony disproved everything he had to say on the London Olympics.
I have a theory about his behavior, which takes us beyond the minor embarrassments of last week and goes to the heart of his campaign. It is that Romney has stripped himself of reason, personality and sense in order to become the next president of the United States and that that is ultimately why he will fail to persuade the undecided voters to endorse him. Devilishly cunning new legislation in 19 key US states, designed to place obstacles between voters and the ballot boxes most likely to affect those who vote Democrat, may eventually swing it for the Republicans. But in a straight fight with Obama on the candidates' weight, experience and merit of their convictions, he comes a distant second.
This is as much about authenticity as politics. Romney is generally smooth in interview yet he leaves you counting your change. He glides past all the topics that most interest the world: his Mormon religion, his attitude to gun control after the Aurora shootings, his tax affairs and record in elected office as governor of Massachusetts.
Instead, he burbles plausibly about the current economy, which is not, of course, to go too deeply into the reason why the economic collapse occurred – the greed and irresponsibility of his own trade of money shufflers.
On the current economy, he says that it is simply a matter of freeing the entrepreneurial classes, getting more good jobs for middle-income Americans, extending trade with Latin America and making the most of the benefits of shale gas.
Because he can't or won't talk about the things that interest Americans, they are unable to get to know him. But more important, he is mostly returning serve, which is a calamitous position for someone who is challenging the incumbent at this stage.
Where you would expect him to deliver regular aces is on employment. Presidents who go into election with an unemployment rate of higher than 7.2% do not get re-elected. Seven swing states currently have that rate or above. According to a poll for the Hill, two-thirds of likely voters blame poor job growth on Washington and a majority suggest this is a direct result of Obama's policies.
All good news for Romney, but polls tell many different stories. The Hill points out that in the same survey, 57% of voters blame obstructionist policies by the Republicans in Congress for the current troubles and that percentage includes a lot of swing voters.
So, even on this core issue, Romney doesn't get a walkover. If the Republicans rely too much on the poor economy and unemployment, the Democrats will be able to flourish data from the US Labor Department that nobody has yet questioned. Though the Republicans have consistently presented themselves as pro-business and pro-employment, they have created far fewer jobs than Democrat administrations. Over 40 years, the Democrats created 71.83m jobs, an average of 1.79m a year, whereas over 36 years the Republicans have created a total 34.78m, an average of 966,111 a year.
This is stunning data. Even the most ardent Republican supporter must realize that historically the party has tended to boost the wealth of the few rather than the many. In these figures lies the story of the growing inequality of American society, and a proper understanding of them may make people ask who Romney will be working for if he gets elected – his buddies at Bain Capital, some of whom attended a $75,000-a-seat fundraiser in London last week – or the average struggling American?
And here we come back to Romney's business life at Bain, which he says ended in 1999. This has been doubted because in 2002 he signed off on Bain documents, which are held by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
But leaving that aside, the general debate on how the rich got richer in the last 15 years may prove embarrassing for him. Bain's chief mode of operation was to create efficiencies by outsourcing jobs to cheaper labor markets. That is not a great record if the main thrust of your campaign is to concentrate on the administration's failure to create jobs on American soil.
Romney became so rich that he entered that exclusive club of low taxpayers. According to an investigation by Vanity Fair magazine, Mitt and Ann Romney, a large part of whose wealth is held in offshore tax havens, paid $6.2m federal tax on income of $42.5m in 2010 and 2011, a tax rate of just under 15%, much less than the middle-income families Romney says he cares about.
He can't talk about his rich life. He can't talk about his life as a Mormon, which, rightly or wrongly, seems weird to most Americans and he can't talk about Massachusetts because the two policies he is known for – legislation against assault weapons and universal health insurance – are anathema to the Republican party.
So what's left? Well, there is foreign policy, which he addresses with a lot of achingly dull bromides, and there is war and the military. But the problem with these is that a Washington Post poll recently suggested that most Republicans regret the Afghanistan war and are for cutting the Pentagon's budget.
Romney has got nothing to say. He hollowed himself out to gain the nomination and is now too drained of character to win the presidency.