"Vet the Prez," from Breitbart.com to Romney HQ

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 18 2012 9:36 AM

"Vet the Prez," from Breitbart.com to Romney HQ

The Romney campaign's warm relationship with conservative media manifests itself in the form of Drudge links, of warm blog posts, and of helpful Fox News coverage. (The first and third factors were true even during the primary.) Breitbart.com has been on a months-long kick of stories subtitled "Vet the Prez" or just "The Vetting. The site's operating theory is that the press did not vet Barack Obama in 2008, saddling the country with a radical whose bio had never been examined.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Now, via McKay Coppins, comes an anonymous Romney advisor saying the campaign is on Team Breitbart.

[T]he 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.
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This is exactly what conservatives want to hear. So what are our first attack points in the new Vetting campaign?

- "Obama's cocaine use"

- "a sweetheart deal with his house in Chicago"

- "working with Rod Blagojevich to get Valerie Jarrett appointed to the Senate"

One by one...

- Coppins points out that John Sununu mused about Obama "smoking something in Hawaii" yesterday, and never apologized for saying it. It was a reference, though, to pot smoking, which is common, not to cocaine use, which most voters have no experience of.

- The "sweetheart deal" was actually investigated at multiple points during the 2008 campaign, once by Brian Ross, before he broke the Jeremiah Wright stories.

- The Jarrett/Blago claim is trickier. It has one source: Former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris, who testified during the governor's trial that Rahm Emanuel "asked whether it would be helpful if Sen. Obama called the governor to advocate for this individual." That, apparently, was as far as it went. But I think the point here is question-begging, not pointing out a misdeed. It's exactly like the Bain story, no element of which suggests that Romney did anything wrong or illegal.

And that tells us how much the Obama campaign has gotten into Romney's head. The stated impetus for the anonymous advisors' new "screw it, let's vet 'im" zeal was Obama deputy campaign manager/frequent soft-focus profile subject Stephanie Cutter's "felony" comment. Worth remembering: She did not actually say Romney was a "felon."

Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments.

It was more question-begging. In the conservative media, it became the single most offensive part of the Romney story, and the rest of the media's failure to call out Cutter proved their bias. And if the anonymous Romney advisors are right, it threw the campaign right off its "every other issue is a distraction from the economy" jag. You're gonna talk about stories from 1999 that look pretty bad but evince no wrongdoing? We're gonna talk about stories from 2008 that look pretty bad but evince no wrongdoing!

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.