A PERNICIOUS SHIFT TO AN ANNOYING TREND…. The notion that conservative outrages tend to be manufactured nonsense isn’t new. The last 18 months has been filled with them.

Remember how excited the right was about the Gerald Walpin firing? Or the time conservatives were convinced that the White House was closing car dealerships based on owners’ political contributions? How about the time the right was apoplectic because the president urged kids to do well in school when last year’s school year began? And who can forget when Republicans discovered job offers to congressional candidates and compared it Watergate?

Inexplicably, several major news outlets responded to stories like these by insisting that the media should do more to take seriously the kind of stories and ideas that bubble up on conservative websites and talk radio.

More recently, however, the larger trend has taken a turn for the worse. It’s not just that the right gets worked up over stories that fall apart after minimal scrutiny — though that’s part of it — it’s also that the trumped up garbage is starting to get more focused. Kevin Drum raised an excellent point today:

There have been three big conservative outrages that have choked the airwaves over the past couple of weeks. #1 was about a bunch of scary black men, the New Black Panther Party. #2 was about a bunch of scary Muslims who want to build a triumphal mosque on the sacred soil of Ground Zero. #3 was about a vindictive black woman who works for the government and screws the white people she deals with. The running theme here is not just a coincidence.

This, by the way, coincided with leading Tea Party zealots blasting the NAACP as “racist,” and a coordinated attack against Thurgood Marshall by Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There have to be some decent folks on the right who are uncomfortable with this. I know RNC Chairman Michael Steele recently conceded his party relied on a racially-divisive “Southern Strategy” for at least four decades, and that animosity towards Barack Obama is exacerbated by race, but conservatives — Fox News, GOP activists, prominent far-right media voices — continue to push the boundaries of acceptable discourse here. We’ve gone from conservatives making up scurrilous nonsense to gin up excitement with far-right voters to conservatives making up racist nonsense to gin up excitement with far-right voters.

And as the midterms draw closer, the ugliness seems to be intensifying. Where are the Republican grown-ups willing to say, “Enough”?

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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.