Operation "Piss Off Mitt" Seems to be Working

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 11:46 AM EDT

McKay Coppins:

"[Romney] has said Obama's a nice fellow, he's just in over his head," the adviser said. "But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond that pale that he's really disappointed. He believes it's time to vet the president. He really hasn't been vetted; McCain didn't do it."

Indeed, facing what the candidate and his aides believe to be a series of surprisingly ruthless, unfounded, and unfair attacks from the Obama campaign on Romney's finances and business record, the Republican's campaign is now prepared to go eye for an eye in an intense, no-holds-barred act of political reprisal, said two Romney advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the next chapter of Boston's pushback — which began last week when they began labeling Obama a "liar" — very little will be off-limits, from the president's youthful drug habit, to his ties to disgraced Chicago politicians.

We can probably dispense with the notion that Obama has never been "vetted." It's been a favorite among the conspiracy-minded right ever since 2008, but it mostly just consists of fantasies about Jeremiah Wright, missing college transcripts, anti-colonialism, secret socialist ties, etc. etc. Romney's team knows perfectly well that it's largely the province of nutcases.

Still, the "vetting" pretense gives them cover to say lots of nasty things about Obama in hopes that eventually some of it will stick. I sort of doubt that it will, since Obama's been in office for four years and most people outside of the hardcore right already have a pretty settled view of him as a cautious, sober-minded, mainstream Democrat. But I guess you never know.

It's dangerous, though. If Coppins is right, Romney is under the peculiar impression that Obama's attacks on his business background are wildly ruthless and out of bounds. This is odd since Romney has been attacked for his business background repeatedly in the past. If it seems more intense this time, it's only because this kind of thing is always more intense in a presidential race.

Obama is unquestionably running a tough campaign, but if Romney is losing his cool over questions about his taxes and his stewardship of Bain Capital, he's just showing he's not ready for the big leagues. Wild countercharges about Obama's teenage drug use will only confirm that. It's obvious that Obama is hoping to get under Romney's skin and provoke him into doing something stupid, and right now it looks like Romney may be about to take the bait.

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