It’s an elementary rule of political courtesy that if your enemies want to fight one another you should offer to hold their coats.

It turns out that there are big intra-wingnut differences over Michelle Bachmann’s attempt to assassinate the character of Huma Abedin, with Limbaugh and Gingrich on Bachmann’s side [She’s not making any accusations, just asking questions. Why is it bad to ask questions? Shouldn’t we be concerned about the security of the country? What are you afraid of learning?] and McCain and Boehner (!), supported by Rubio and Scott Brown, speaking up for elementary decency

It’s possible that McCain and Boehner and Rubio and Brown genuinely disapprove of McCarthyism or of religious bigotry, or alternatively that they know Abedin personally and aren’t willing to participate in her Acorning. In Brown’s case, he may be looking for a way to appeal to Massachusetts voters.

But there’s another factor at work.

It turns out that Bachmann (and her four fellow Teahadi Congresscritters) didn’t invent the smear against Abedin. Its part of the much bigger Muslims-under-the-bed fantasy invented just after 9/11 by a washed-up Reaganoid named Frank Gaffney. And one of Gaffney’s early (and continuing) targets was none other than the Godfather of the anti-taxers, Grover Norquist.

Now it happens to be true that, in the early days of the W usurpation, Norquist identified Muslim-Americans as a potentially Republican-leaning voting (and contributor) bloc, and pushed his fellow-GOPers to reach out to them. I’m not sure whether any of the outreach was supposed to involve Middle East policy as opposed to patriarchy, though it’s worth remembering that, pre-9/11, W himself treated the Saudi Ambassador as virtually a member of his family, and after 9/11 did everything he could to cover up Saudi complicity in planning the attack.

In any case, Norquist clearly wanted to add Muslims to the Big Tent the GOP was trying to build before it settled down to become the Party of Straight White Christians. Gaffney disagreed, and was more than willing to get ink and raise money by questioning Norquist’s loyalty, with frequent references to Norquist’s Muslim wife. And Gaffney hasn’t given up on Norquist as a target; Grover the Untaxable is prominently mentioned in the same “documentation” Bachmann cited in her attack on Abedin.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to make Republicans vote on this, thus annoying either the bigots or the Norquist crowd? A resolution expressing confidence in Abedin’s loyalty and apologizing to her for the insult would be fine, but Boehner could simply refuse to bring it to the floor. One way of forcing a vote would be to offer a Resolution of Censure directed at Bachmann and her accomplices. That’s a privileged motion.

Footnote Note that Gingrich and Norquist are old comrades-in-arms. In backing Bachmann Gingrich was throwing his friend under the bus. By now you’d think the set of things beneath Gingrich’s moral standards would be pretty near empty. But like a great artist or athlete, a truly superb villain keeps surprising you.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.