The Obama campaign is pouncing on this moment at a Mitt Romney event today, where Romney didn’t rebuke a woman who loudly argued that Obama “should be tried for treason”:
Obama campaign spokesman Lis Smith emails reporters:
“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. If this is the ‘leadership’ he has shown on the campaign trail, what can the American people expect of him as commander-in-chief?”
Romney himself was subsequently asked by reporters whether he agreed with the woman, and he said: “No, of course not.” And it’s not fair to hold the candidates responsible for everything their supporters say. But both campaigns will continue to play this game (see Rosen, Hilary) to the best of their abilities.
The Obama campaign will continue to cite Romney’s failure to denounce the woman in real time as a test of Romney's character, as proof that he is unwilling to stand up to extreme elements within his party. 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.
Fairness aside, what’s interesting is how normal this sort of thing has come to sound. Even if they would never endorse an open declaration that Obama is guilty of treason, many mainstream Republicans have been cheerfully feeding the right’s paranoia about Obama for literally years now, albeit in slightly less lurid terms. For instance, how much less crazy than this “treason” talk is Romney frequent claim that Obama favors government enforced “equal outcomes”and wants to ensure that everyone in American society reaps the ”same rewards”? Obviously accusing the president of “treason” is a far more serious charge, on the face of it. Yet the two statements aren’t really all that different when it comes to their detachment from reality.
But one of these is enough to trigger a round of media condemnation, forcing the candidate to distance himself from it; the other is a standard line in Romney’s stump speech that he repeats all the time without provoking so much as a raised eyebrow from reporters. Go figure.