One of the prevailing assumptions about the presidential campaign has been that there would be a division of labor between the Romney campaign and the big conservative Super-PACs, whereby the former would promote some sort of “positive” message and the latter would savagely attack the president (much as Mitt’s Super-PACs did to his opponents during the primaries–or at least opponents not named “Ron Paul”).

You have to wonder about that division of labor given the recent utterances of official Romney surrogates, via a report from BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins:

In a brutal campaign conference call Tuesday organized by Mitt Romney’s campaign, several of the candidate’s surrogates went after President Obama with fiery attacks accusing him of socialism, and being un-American.

“I wish this president would learn how to be an American,” said former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu said toward the beginning of the call. Asked later to explain his comment, Sununu said he was referring to Obama’s economic philosophy, and apologized for not being clearer.

Sununu also said that by asserting Romney had committed a felony, the Obama campaign was inviting an investigation into its own “Chicago-style” politics. He concluded the call by calling Obama’s campaign “clearly and unequivocally liars….”

Earlier Tuesday, Sununu made several of the charges in an interview with Fox News, suggesting that his words on the conference call were part of a new Romney campaign effort to turn the focus of the race away from questions about his time at Bain Capitol.

“He has no idea how the American system functions,” Sununu told Fox. “And we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, another set of years in Indonesia, and, frankly, when he came to the U.S., he worked as a community organizer, which is a socialized structure, and then got into politics in Chicago.”

All righty then. Now even if you figure the Bain attacks are an existential threat to Team Mitt, and are appropriate for the campaign itself because they strike at the core of Romney’s Bain-centered “positive” message, this is pretty uninhibited stuff. And even if Sununu went off script (which is unlikely), you don’t put a guy like him out there unless you want some really hammer-headed talk. So the mystery remains: what kind of messaging might conceivably be off-limits to the campaign but not to the Super-PACs? The mind reels.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.