By NANCY BENAC Associated Press
02/16/2015 12:33 AM

WASHINGTON — If you’re an aspiring presidential candidate, says professional crisis manager Eric Dezenhall, right now is “a great time to take a pratfall because it’s so far away from anything major.”

That’s a good thing because so many of the candidates’ feet have been sliding out from under them.

The first six weeks of 2015 have featured mangled messages, snappishness, a bad hire and other flubs from the Republicans who would be president.

It’s pretty much to be expected in the earliest stages of a campaign with just short of a gazillion potential candidates who haven’t done this before.

In recent days:

—Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush cut loose a new hire with a history of inappropriate comments about women, gays and blacks.

—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul struggled to strike the right tone on whether parents should have to vaccinate their children.

—Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker caught flak for ducking questions and picking a fight with the revered University of Wisconsin.

Candidates-in-waiting got peevish. They gave underwhelming speeches. They tried to disavow their own words. And so on.

Do these responses sound like guys who are ready to be president?

Do you believe in evolution, Gov. Walker? “I’m going to punt on that one.”

What about the Islamic State group, Gov. Christie? “Is there something you don’t understand about, ‘No questions?'”

It’s part of the long and brutal learning curve for a presidential race, where even seasoned politicians find the scrutiny more intense than for lesser offices.

Dezenhall calls this the season of “gaffe congestion” for would-be candidates and says 20 months out from Election Day 2016 is a good time to get them over with.

In an earlier time, even eight years ago or 12, none of this recent drama would have been much more than a paragraph in the saga that is a presidential race.

“Now, thanks to Twitter and the immediacy of political commentary, mistakes are much more painful,” says Ari Fleischer, a communications consultant who was President George W. Bush’s press secretary.

Still, he says, the best candidates will learn from their early stumbles and quickly regain their stride.

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