Politico ran a piece yesterday on the Obama re-election team gearing up to take on Mitt Romney, which generated quite a bit of attention. The gist of the piece was the kind of criticism Romney can expect to see from Democrats: he’s a weird, unlikable flip-flopper with no core values, who isn’t comfortable in his own skin, who can’t be trusted, who lacks authenticity, and who got rich by laying off thousands of American workers.

This paragraph, however, seemed to spark some bizarre scuttlebutt.

None of the Obama advisers interviewed made any suggestion that Romney’s personal qualities would be connected to his minority Mormon faith, but the step from casting Romney as a bit off to raising questions about religion may not be a large step for some of the incumbent’s supporters.

Hmm. No one in or close to the campaign brought up Romney’s religion at all. They have all kinds of attacks in mind, but none of the criticisms relate to Mormonism at all.

But Politico thinks Democrats might go after his faith anyway because, well, because Politico just thinks it’s possible, even if there’s no evidence to support the conclusion.

John Cole noted the evolution of this story from morning to afternoon.

So Hardball had a segment tonight called “Swiftboat 2.0” in which David Brody “made the connection” for us between calling Romney weird and calling him a Mormon.

See how this works? Ben Smith and JMart tell everyone that no one on team Obama made any mention of religion, but secretly, they (Ben and JMART) think it is about religion. A few hours later, and the conventional wisdom in the beltway is that Team Obama is attacking Romney for being a Mormon, and equating it to the ugly, prolonged, and still ongoing campaign to smear John Kerry.

And the Obama team has said NOTHING.

This is how the ridiculous game works: (1) Politico speculates about an imaginary line of attack against Romney; (2) Romney campaign pretends to be outraged; (3) political establishment forgets that the line of attack doesn’t actually exist; (4) Chris Matthews wonders on the air how Obama’s team can do something so awful, despite the fact Obama’s team hasn’t done anything.

What’s more, earlier in the day, John also noted that some of the same folks who criticize the president and his team for not being nearly aggressive enough towards Republicans are chastising Obama’s campaign for having the gall to talk about Romney’s religion.

Despite the fact that Obama’s campaign has no interest in talking about Romney’s religion.

It’s still early August — 15 months before the elections. The mainstream campaign coverage is only going to get worse.

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.