OCCASIONAL NUTS…. Over the weekend, Mark Salter, arguably John McCain’s closest advisor, complained about media coverage of the right-wing lunatics who make threatening comments during McCain/Palin rallies.

“I think there have been quite a few reporters recently,” Salter said, “who have sort of implied, or made more than implications, that somehow we’re responsible for the occasional nut who shows up and yells something about Barack Obama.”

It’s an odd perspective, for a few reasons. First, when the Obama campaign questioned the appropriateness of these lunatics’ rhetoric, the McCain campaign defended the enraged supporters and accused Obama of “attacking” and “assaulting” Republican activists. Now, all of a sudden, these same folks are just “occasional nuts.”

Second, when the McCain campaign tolerates, and in some cases even eggs on, unhinged right-wing activists, the campaign does bear some responsibility for the toxicity.

And perhaps most importantly, we’re really not just talking about random lunatics who rant and rave at campaign rallies. Last week, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania announced, in print, its belief that Obama is “a terrorist’s best friend.” The McCain campaign did not distance itself from the press release.

Time’s Karen Tumulty offered this on-the-ground report on Republican efforts in Virginia.

With so much at stake, and time running short, [Virginia Republican Party Chairman Jeffrey M. Frederick] did not feel he had the luxury of subtlety. He climbed atop a folding chair to give 30 campaign volunteers who were about to go canvassing door to door their talking points — for instance, the connection between Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden: “Both have friends that bombed the Pentagon,” he said. “That is scary.” It is also not exactly true — though that distorted reference to Obama’s controversial association with William Ayers, a former 60s radical, was enough to get the volunteers stoked. “And he won’t salute the flag,” one woman added, repeating another myth about Obama. She was quickly topped by a man who called out, “We don’t even know where Senator Obama was really born.” Actually, we do; it’s Hawaii.

McCain was asked yesterday whether he found these remarks appropriate. He said he’s have to “look at the context” — as if it were possible that blatantly dishonest smears might be acceptable to him.

Let’s be absolutely clear: the “occasional nuts” are running the Republican Party.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.