Reporters asked Mitt Romney on Wednesday to defend the blatant, shameless dishonesty of his first television ad. Here’s what he came up with.

“There was no hidden effort on the part of our campaign,” he said. “It was instead to point out that what’s sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander.”

As a puzzled look fell over the eyes of a few reporters at a press conference, Mr. Romney added: “This ad points out that guess what? It’s now your turn. The same lines that you used on John McCain are now going to be used on you.”

The conventional wisdom is that Mitt Romney is an intelligent person. I’m not sure how much more it will take to convince the political world to reevaluate these assumptions.

The defense is just idiotic. Romney knowingly took words out of context, and changed the meaning of a sentence, for the sole purpose of misleading the public. “Sauce for the gander”? What is that even supposed to mean? If Obama had taken McCain’s comments out of context to deceive voters, this might be slightly less ridiculous. But the president didn’t do this, and that’s apparently not the point Romney is trying to make, anyway.

Rather, the Republican is effectively trying to say, “Obama criticized the McCain campaign, so we get to make stuff up about Obama.” And when pressed, Romney is entirely comfortable arguing that the basics of a healthy discourse — truths, facts, fairness, honor — are now irrelevant.

No one should want to be president this badly.

Yesterday, the New York Daily News said Romney’s defense is evidence he’s “signaling he’s ready for bare-knuckled campaigning.” Nonsense. He’s signaling he’s ready to say or do anything — including deliberately deceive Americans — to further his ambitions. That’s not evidence of “bare-knuckled campaigning”; that’s evidence of a severe character problem.

The DNC, meanwhile, put together a video response, noting media reactions to Romney’s lie, which struck me as pretty compelling.

YouTube video

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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.