Tough-Guy Portman

You know, I’m really beginning to enjoy the mini-campaign underway to puff Ohio Sen. Rob Portman into something other than a boring Beltway conservative lifer who’s more or less the default-drive Veep option. Last week we had the exciting news that in the barrios of America, Hispanic voters are practically chanting his name, so inoffensive are his views about immigration (and he learned Spanish in college!).

Now we learn that this mild-mannered party hack has been auditioning as an attack dog–one of those time-honored roles for a Veep. Jonathan Karl of ABC has the story, as spun to him by Portman’s staff:

Just over the past week, the normally soft-spoken Portman has issued a series of blistering – for him anyway – attacks on Barack Obama.

By today’s standards, these attacks are actually fairly tame (nothing compared to what Newt Gingrich has said about Romney, for example), but the tough new tone shows Portman is not afraid to play the traditional attack-dog role of a vice presidential candidate.

Here’s a rundown of what we’ve heard from Portman of just the last week

:

– In an interview with Bret Baier on Fox News, Portman turned a question about his lack of “sizzle” into a slam on Obama. “America made a decision in 2008 to go with a president who did have sizzle. And look, he was kind of a celebrity. He also had a very compelling message which was, remember this, ‘I’m going to bring people together to solve problems.’ Didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen because he didn’t have the experience, he didn’t have the record, he didn’t have the policies to do it.”

– A few days later, Portman accused the President of offering only “lofty rhetoric and poll-tested platitudes” when he visited Ohio. “Instead of changing course, President Obama wants to double down with more job-killing taxes, higher spending, dangerous levels of debt, and more burdensome regulations from Washington.”

– When the disappointing jobs report came out on Friday, Portman blamed the President for an economy that has 5 million fewer jobs than before the recession, saying “Unfortunately, time and time again, the Obama administration chooses politics over policy and style over substance.”

I’ll pause for a moment to let your heart stop racing.

The piece de resistance is an op-ed Portman ran on the Fox News site over the weekend. Here’s a tasty sample of the rawest red meat:

American families are worried. Many are hurting. Most of our fellow citizens feel that America is on the wrong track. As parents we are concerned that the country we leave for our children and grandchildren won’t be as prosperous or secure as the one we inherited. Meanwhile, the Obama administration seems out of ideas and out of touch with the realities in Ohio.

Four years ago, the country had high hopes for President-elect Barack Obama. He didn’t have a lot of experience – even his own running mate had questioned if he was ready for the job – but he delivered eloquent speeches with soaring rhetoric. But now the president has to run on his record.

And here is his stirring tribute to the Great Helmsman Mitt:

Governor Romney offers a proven record of accomplishment and a vision for a stronger America. He has proposed a bold agenda to reduce the size of government, reform the tax code, and get spending under control. He will strengthen America at home and abroad. He will tackle the tough problems that President Obama has ignored.

Gotta say, Portman sounds like a mid-level Soviet factotum trying to toe the party line at the Ninth Congress of the Toilers of the East–poorly.

The funny thing is that the GOP is chock-full of truly hateful people these days, more than willing to go out there and suggest that Barack Obama is, if not Satan Himself, then Satan’s Imp. And I’m sure before long most Republicans will be routinely describing Romney as possessing George Washington’s leadership skills, Abraham Lincoln’s sagacity, and Ronald Reagan’s charisma.

If Mitt’s computers spit out Portman’s name, what he’ll need is not so much a thorough vetting, but a helium injection, just to get the trial balloons a bit higher off the ground.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.