With today's large fields of candidates, it's always possible to find one real kook, and elect someone who also has something wrong upstairs. And of course the observers are biased themselves, and prefer some candidates to others.
"Presidential temperament" was a big theme in 1976. It doesn't look like the professional observers caught Jimmy Carter's own deficiencies and rigidities. They were comparing Carter to recent presidents Nixon and Johnson. Carter didn't have their particular flaws -- and they didn't want Ford to win -- so they judged Jimmy not just to be sane, but to have an untroubled psyche, and missed his obsessive nature.
"so they judged Jimmy not just to be sane, but to have an untroubled psyche, and missed his obsessive nature."
Not us Navy guys. We have a saying from way back: "Nukes are pukes."
If they compared Wilson to TR, Woodrow might simply look boring and conventional.Absolutely, and that's precisely why he won. He stayed "safe" -- boring -- and a traditional low-tarrif, moderate progressive Democrat, fitting in comfortably between TR's radicalism and Taft's conservativism. The Wilson scholars hate to think he was a traditional Dem. He was. All that cr*p about Brandeis converting him is bull. Even if true, he met Brandeis way late in the campaign to change either his thought or his rhetoric. (Indeed, his first term domestic policies were either mainstream progressivism, just to the left of Taft, or traditional populist Democrat.)
So, his '12 political campaign was based on being, if not stodgy, then stiff, especially as a counter-point to TR, who was accused of being a drunk, a maniac, and all sorts of unkind and mostly -- mostly -- untrue manifestations of mental instability. Note, though, that Wilson was considered a very good speaker. Not a TR, but he could make a good speech.
I don't see how anyone in 1912 could have known Wilson's inner character, except, perhaps, close associates. He was the occasional stuborn ass as president of Princeton, but that was seen as having backbone. And he was very adept as Governor of NJ, although I think the political situation there made it easy for him. He took supposedly brave stands against "the interests" that were really easy to make. It was the events of his presidency that brought out his ugliest core. Nobody could have known it back in 1912.