If Only They Knew

For a long time now, Mitt Romney and the people who work for him have seemed like the reasonable people in the Republican party. That isn't to say that Romney's policies or rhetoric were particularly reasonable, but we all accepted that when he started breathing fire, it was an act. Buffeted by the winds of extremism, he made a bargain with his party's base: I'll pretend to be as crazy as you, and you'll learn to live with me as your nominee.

But now, Barack Obama has finally opened the can of whoop-ass on Romney that many of us had long been expecting, and as McKay Coppins reports, both Romney himself and his people don't like it one bit. Their reaction indicates that maybe they were never that different from the Republican base after all.

"[Romney] has said Obama's a nice fellow, he's just in over his head," the adviser said. "But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond that pale that he's really disappointed. He believes it's time to vet the president. He really hasn't been vetted; McCain didn't do it."

Indeed, facing what the candidate and his aides believe to be a series of surprisingly ruthless, unfounded, and unfair attacks from the Obama campaign on Romney's finances and business record, the Republican's campaign is now prepared to go eye for an eye in an intense, no-holds-barred act of political reprisal, said two Romney advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the next chapter of Boston's pushback — which began last week when they began labeling Obama a "liar" — very little will be off-limits, from the president's youthful drug habit, to his ties to disgraced Chicago politicians.

"I mean, this is a guy who admitted to cocaine use, had a sweetheart deal with his house in Chicago, and was associated and worked with Rod Blagojevich to get Valerie Jarrett appointed to the Senate," the adviser said. "The bottom line is there'll be counterattacks."

It might be just this one particular aide's formulation, but the use of the word "vet" is the tell. One of the consuming fantasies on the right is that we never learned very much about Barack Obama, and if only the American people knew about Reverend Wright, or about Obama's youthful drug use, or about his relationship with Bill Ayers, then they would as one recoil in horror and boot him from office. This is all summed up in the oft-repeated assertion, "He was never vetted." The fact that all these things were, in fact, reported on extensively doesn't penetrate with the people who believe this, because if the public actually knew then Obama could never have been elected in the first place, so that must mean they just don't know. Could the voters have heard all this stuff and decided to elect Obama anyway? Impossible.

I'm quite surprised to hear this stuff coming from the Romney camp, since they were supposed to be the cold-eyed pragmatists of the GOP. But they seem to have no idea how to actually defeat an incumbent president. If they want to run the rest of their campaign on the fact that Obama knew Rod Blagojevich and did coke when he was a teenager, I'm sure the Obama campaign would reply, be our guest.

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