This question arises because at a Romney town hall meeting in Cleveland on Monday, a female supporter told the crowd that Mr. Obama is “operating outside the structure of our Constitution” and should be “tried for treason.”
At the time, Mr. Romney let the comment pass. Later, asked by reporters about the “treason” incident, Romney said that “no, of course” the president should not be tried for that offense.
Too late, too late! Top Democrats ratcheted their umbrage meters up to “stun.”
Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement, “Time after time in this campaign, Mitt Romney has had the opportunity to show that he has the fortitude to stand up to hateful and over-the-line rhetoric and time after time, he has failed to do so.”
Does the Obama team think Romney secretly sympathizes with the call to put their guy in the dock? No, they know better. They’re just maneuvering for a tiny bit of rhetorical advantage in a campaign that’s becoming more personal by the day.
Handling supporters who go over the line isn’t easy, after all. Sure, in the 2008 campaign Sen. John McCain did it pretty well. After a rally supporter called Obama an “Arab” who couldn’t be trusted, Senator McCain took the mike and said, “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man.”
But it’s more common for candidates to look on with a strained smile that says, “I hope that person did not say what I think they just said.”
Even some generally liberal commentators sounded as if they thought the blistering Democratic response seemed a touch ... sensitive.
“It would be nice if we could establish some kind of clear standard for when candidates are and aren’t responsible for the things their supporters say, but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, since both campaigns seem to think they profit from jumping on such episodes, perhaps because they’re easy ways to motivate base supporters,” wrote Greg Sargent on his liberal Plum Line Washington Post blog.
Others added that the problem here is not Romney’s response per se, but the political culture that produced the woman’s comment. If Donald Trump can question whether the president is legally a US citizen, why can’t the rank and file yell “treason”?
“I’m not sure which is worse: the idea that we’re all supposed to care whether or not Mitt Romney adequately knocks down the crazy every time it’s thrust in his face ... or the fact that the crazy is constantly thrust in his face (and that he and other Republican leaders encourage it),” wrote Jonathan Bernstein on his A plain blog about politics.
Conservatives, meanwhile, charged Democrats with hypocrisy.
Interviewed afterward, White House adviser Daniel Pfeiffer said that “officials shouldn’t be responsible for everything said and don’t have to serve as the ‘speech police.’ ”
“So there you have it,” wrote Mr. Howe. “There is absolutely nothing worse than a man of Governor Romney’s stature staying quiet while awful things are said about his opponent. This is something that Obama would never find himself on the wrong end of. Unless of course when he was exactly on the other end of it just last year.”