“Vetting” Genie Out of the Bottle

I don’t want to over-react to John Sunnunu’s bizarre outburst yesterday, or put too much weight on McKay Coppins’ report today that it represented a Romney campaign decision to “take the gloves off” and go nuclear on the president. Perhaps Coppins didn’t get the story right, or maybe Brother Benen’s cautious description of the sudden lurch into viciousness as a loss of composure is more accurate than my suggestion of a “meltdown.” Quite possibly Jon Chait is right in suggesting this could reflect a moment of personal pique from Romney and “cooler heads will prevail.” No question the odds are that Team Mitt will calm down, get to the safe haven of the Olympics (assuming the dressage issue doesn’t kick them), and then roll out a plain vanilla running mate, return to its effort to hypnotize the electorate into ignoring everything about Romney other than his availability to those wanting for register disappointment with the status quo, and in general convey the impression that voting Republican this year is a safe, stable proposition.

But one problem with Coppins’ piece and the realities it may reflect is that they are already inspiring joy in the wingnutosphere, in no small part because of a term used by an unnamed Romney advisor in a portion of the article I did not earlier quote:

“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.”

Ah yes, The Vetting, that charter mission of Breitbart.com, reflecting the amazingly widespread right-wing belief that John McCain would be president today if only he had dug into and/or screamed about Barack Obama’s sinister background.

Michelle Malkin greeted the story by posting a video of a performance of Handel’s Halleluhah Chorus. The PJ Tatler commented: “It’s four years past time he was vetted.” Hot Air suggested (accurately, no doubt) that this will get a lot of positive attention from the restive “base.” No word yet from the Breitbart site itself, or from fellow vetting enthusiast Sarah Palin, but they may be waiting to see if the Romney campaign dials it all back.

If they don’t (and I do not view Sununu’s own half-apology for just a small portion of his rant as a dial-back), the genie will soon be out of the bottle, and the Romney campaign will find out it’s juggling dynamite. Anything less than a full-fledged, vein-popping, borderline-birther, full-scale commitment to “the vetting” will be greeted with howls of rage and accusations of betrayal from the noisiest elements of the Right.

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.