Rick the Dope Fiend and Mitt The Alpha Dog

I know a lot of readers really dislike Politico as the embodiment of everything they hate about the MSM and Beltway Culture generally. I think of it much as I used to think of TV network news: it’s flawed but essential, and really just part of the political landscape, reflecting both the MSM’s and Washington’s distinctive strengths and weaknesses.

I say all this as prelude to the warning that Politico‘s coverage for the very immediate future may be significantly distorted by its determination to sell lots of virtual copies of the campaign e-book penned by Mike Allen and Evan Thomas, Inside the Circus. This is the second of a planned four-part series. The first e-book, published in November, The Right Fights Back, did not seem to make much of a splash. It appears Politico wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again. And so some of the more visceral images contained in the new book are getting a lot of play.

Exhibit A, coming to a newspaper, web site, or water cooler near you, is the tableau of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, jacked up on painkillers, lustily singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” in a New Hampshire men’s room just prior to a televised candidate debate. This appears to be Allen and Thomas’ central parable for the entire Perry campaign, the heavily-funded can’t-miss candidacy that allegedly ran aground because the governor came across as Bobo the Simpleminded during debates (I’d be more impressed if Allen and Thomas could specifically show the drugs convinced Perry to re-embrace college tuition benefits for the children of undocumented workers, which hurt Perry as much as any goofiness).

But evocative as the Perry story may be (and the underlying claim of heavy drug use by the candidate is, of course, being vehemently denied by his staff), I’m personally even more haunted by a Romney vignette that Politico is promoting today. At the end of a long, murky excerpt about the debates within Camp Romney concerning the candidate’s personality, there suddenly appears this alarming set of images:

His resolve stiffened, Romney came to the Jacksonville debate on Jan. 26, ready to rumble. In the opening minutes, Gingrich repeated a charge, aired earlier in a TV ad, that Romney was the most “anti-immigrant” of the four GOP candidates. With Florida’s large Cuban and Hispanic community, those were fighting words. Turning to Gingrich, Romney unloaded. “That’s simply inexcusable,” he said. “The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive.”

Romney practically spit out the last word. As he spoke, he seemed to rise up, as if he were about to bite his opponent. He was the alpha dog, snarling, teeth bared, dominant.

Romney was tall and dark and broad shouldered, with his black hair swept back and slightly spiky. With his puffy white hair and plumply round physique, Gingrich looked soft and startled. Gone was the righteous indignation from South Carolina. Gingrich barely put up a fight. The debate, and with it the Florida primary, was lost to Romney in the first few minutes.

Lord a-mercy!

In a post last week I talked about the virtually unbridgeable gap between people who view campaigns from the lofty poli-sci perspective of “fundamentals,” and those–especially journalists–who want you to believe that the key moments they are reporting can spell the difference between victory and defeat. Unsurprisingly, the Politico folk epitomize the latter camp.

But what else do they have up their sleeves after Rick the Singing Dope Fiend and Mitt the Snarling Alpha Dog? Santorum receiving radio transmissions on the stump from Opus Dei? Barack Obama basing his entire general election strategy on a Roy Williams game-plan? I shudder to think.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.