In sports the team that turns the ball over, makes silly errors and draws a bunch of penalties is not likely to win. The same is true in politics. Today was a prime example.

After Mitt Romney’s challenge to repudiate the anti-Mormon bigotry, Gov. Rick Perry refused to do so and instead recycled his attacks on Romneycare. The issue isn’t going away. As Politico reported, “Robert Jeffress has been under fire since Friday for calling Mormonism a cult and saying that Mitt Romney is not a Christian. But the Dallas pastor has gone after religions other than Mormonism. On Sunday, he described Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism as ‘false religions.’ And in a recording from last year posted by the liberal group People for the American Way, Jeffress also charges that Catholicism is a product of a ‘Babylonian mystery religion’ that corrupted early Christianity.” Talk about not vetting the guy who introduces you.

Perry then compounded his error on bigotry by sneering at the “Northeastern governor” team of Romney and New Jersey Chris Christie. Does he not want the votes above the Mason-Dixon line? This is the voice of a Texan, not of a serious national candidate. One wonders how many states Perry is writing off. (Nevada has a huge Mormon contingent. New Hampshire comes up right after Iowa in early January.)

He was not the only one fumbling the ball today. I asked Herman Cain’s spokesman if Cain would repudiate Jeffress’s bigotry, as the Anti-Defamation League had called for. His spokesman responded by e-mail: “Mr. Cain has already spoken several times on the record on this issue. Please refer to transcript of Sunday shows on CNN + CBS.” But was he simply ignoring the ADL’s request out of hand? No answer.

I then continued my conversation with Cain’s tax guru Rich Lowrie. What he said suggests that he and his client haven’t thought the 9-9-9 plan through very well. I asked how repatriated revenue from overseas subsidiaries would be treated. He answered that those monies would be tax free if brought back to the United States. But wait a second. Isn’t that permanent incentive going to reward those who ship jobs to China and other low-labor cost places? His answer was baffling. “The current tax code causes that. We fix it. Jobs go there because 1) capital is trapped there. Plus, 2) the uneven playing field (exports leave with high embedded taxes and are not competitive) means it is cheaper to build a plant overseas to avoid those high embedded. We fix that, too. This plan is great for exports, makes imports compete on a level playing field with domestic goods, is good for labor, jobs, wages, etc.”

Even if we accept as true that Cain is going to fix the system and remove “embedded” taxes, he is creating a system in which companies have even more incentive to set up business overseas. Moreover, it doesn’t really help exports at all. Those goods aren’t carrying a sales tax now, and they wouldn’t under his plan. There is no greater advantage for American exporters, and there’s a heck of a downside for American workers.

Yikes. If this is the competition Romney faces, could this be over sooner rather than later? Anything is possible. But Christie had a point when he said 2012 is no time for the untested and inexperienced to go up against President Obama.