Last week, President Obama nominated John Bryson, a California utility and energy executive, to be his new Cabinet secretary. Bryson has extensive experience in the private and public sectors, is an expert on energy policy, and early in his career, helped create the national environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council. He seems like a wise choice.

Republicans, however, have apparently decided Bryson is a radical extremist whose nomination cannot stand.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) … gave fellow Republicans a one-pager at their policy lunch Tuesday — with the heading “Mismatched: John Bryson & the Commerce Department” — citing his founding of the “extreme environmental organization” the Natural Resources Defense Council and his support of the cap-and-trade bill House Democrats passed in 2009.

“Instead of appointing a truly an economic leader, he has appointed an environmental extremist,” Barrasso told reporters after the lunch.

As evidence, Barrasso pointed to remarks Bryson made about the 2009 cap-and-trade bill approved by the House and killed by the Senate. Bryson called it a “moderate, but acceptable bill.”

I guess we should be thankful Barrasso has not yet called for Bryson to be burned at the stake.

We could point out that Republicans have traditionally supported cap-and-trade plans — it was even part of the McCain/Palin agenda as recently as 2008 — but these pesky details probably don’t matter to the GOP anymore.

I mention this, though, because the smear campaign appears to be just now taking shape, and it’s bound to get worse.

Just over the last several days, Fox News’ Eric Bolling has referred to Bryson as an “eco-terrorist,” and prominent right-wing blogs have called him a “radical green activist,” a “raving socialist,” and a “global warming fanatic.”

The fact that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports Bryson’s nomination generally goes unnoticed.

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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.