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Posted at 05:30 PM ET, 06/01/2012

Surrogates like Bill Clinton the Bain of candidates’ existence


I don’t know that guy! (Samir Hussein - Getty Images for Clinton Foundation)
To be part of a presidential campaign, it appears, is to be in a constant state of terror that Somebody Might Say Something Off Message.

Off Message, there be monsters. Set one foot Off Message, and sharks devour the foot. Message is the flat earth, and you must never stray too close to the edge, or the turtles holding it up will bite you on the ankle. Stay On Message at all times.

Lately, this has been a problem.

The updated 2012 edition of the Rules for Campaigning states that the instant you endorse a candidate, your remarks become fair game for everyone’s comment. If you say something dreadful and the candidate does not Denounce you, he is just as bad as you. This can be something of a hassle when candidates get endorsed by, say, aging, washed-up rock stars, whose job description requires them to say as many dreadful things as possible. Consider Ted Nugent.

But it’s been a problem on both sides of the aisle. It’s not merely careless remarks such as Hilary Rosen’s comment about working mothers, or Donald Trump’s rumbling birther nonsense. It’s gotten even worse. Now the surrogates are complimenting the wrong side.

That’s the absolute limit. The whole point of surrogates is that they are supposed to make the attacks you won’t make and say the things you are too temperate to say. Instead, they’re making the actual campaign seem frothing and intemperate by comparison.

This will not do at all!

First Cory Booker said that the attacks on private equity and Jeremiah Wright were both “nauseating.”

Now Bill Clinton is going around calling Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital “sterling.”

Maybe they have a point. But if they do, it’s even worse! Nonsensical rambles, you can handle. But when they start observing that You Have Gone Too Far, it’s time to reel them in. They aren’t doing you any good back there!

Is there some way to Mirandize yourself against the surrogate? Some disclaimer? Or something? “Anything he says cannot be used against me in the court of public opinion!”

We need a surrogate disclaimer, and we need one fast. Talk about mutually assured destruction. It’s practically the first law of talking states that anyone given a microphone and sufficient time will make a career-ending gaffe. And as long as we keep surrogate remarks in limits, the clock is ticking.

Clearly, it’s time to exercise the nuclear option. Someone ought to call Mitt Romney’s camp now. “I have a deranged fellow here on a leash,” he should murmur. “He is deeply racist and smells bad. He is inches from endorsing you.”

“Donald Trump already did that,” the Romney spokesman will say, scoffing. “If we can handle him, we can handle anything.”

And he may have a point. But still.

By  |  05:30 PM ET, 06/01/2012

 
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