A report this morning by Politico chief political correspondent Roger Simon includes this bombshell about Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan:
Though Ryan had already decided to distance himself from the floundering Romney campaign, he now feels totally uninhibited. Reportedly, he has been marching around his campaign bus, saying things like, “If Stench calls, take a message” and “Tell Stench I’m having finger sandwiches with Peggy Noonan and will text him later.”
The "stench" reference comes from a quote that Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa Republican Party gave to the New York Times over the weekend: “I hate to say this, but if Ryan wants to run for national office again, he’ll probably have to wash the stench of Romney off of him.”
Needless to say, the political press and blogosphere have jumped on the story:
Times columnist Paul Krugman:
Can I say that even though I’m not exactly a fan of Mitt Romney’s, this is just bad behavior? You’re supposed to wait until it’s actually over before you do this kind of thing. Anyway, I like how Ryan is declaring independence: by using PowerPoint!
Tommy Christopher of press-gossip site Mediaite:
Simon’s anecdote has the recognizable (to the Beltway crowd) ring of truth that renders it canonical in political circles ... Simon’s anecdote demonstrates that the Romney campaign’s toxic press is in Ryan’s head. In this electoral game of chicken, Ryan is already unbuckling his seatbelt and visualizing his roll onto the shoulder.
Joe Gandelman of the Moderate Voice:
Have we ever heard of a winning Presidential ticket in American politics that had a Vice Presidential candidate have an attitude like this about his running mate? Talk about a total lack of deference (or respect).
Liberal radio personality Taylor Marsh:
Ryan is trying to save himself so he can live to run another day. Roger Simon’s piece has spread like wildfire and is causing a gigantic ripple.
Steve Benen at MSNBC host Rachel Maddow's blog:
In applied terms, Simon's piece went on to note that Ryan no longer likes the directions "dictated by his Romney handlers." It's quite a presidential campaign, isn't it?
David Ferguson of the Raw Story:
According to Simon’s anonymous sources, the Romney “brain trust” of senior campaign officials in Boston have taken to calling Ryan “Gilligan.” Campaign headquarters apparently feels that the man brought on to the ticket for his alleged deftness in navigating complicated snarls of budget and policy numbers is turning out to be an intellectual flyweight.
Clearly, a disaster for the Romney campaign, right? No, it was apparently a clumsy attempt at satire gone horribly awry.
As Ben Smith of Buzzfeed, a former Politico blogger, tweeted: "So uh a lot of people seem not to have picked up that @politicoroger's column was satire." Put more succinctly by conservative blogger JammieWearingFool: "Satire should actually be funny."
Or, at least it should be pretty obvious. There is no underestimating the literal-mindedness of the American reader: Years ago when I worked at the Times we published a satirical op-ed column by Steve Martin riffing on the idea that a NASA Mars probe had discovered millions of kittens on the Red Planet. Shortly thereafter, a subscriber sent a terse letter to the editor asking us to "inform your science correspondent" that the lack of oxygen on Mars made kitten infestation highly unlikely.
Naturally, no writer wants to put a blinking sign indicating "This Is a Joke" above his or her parody piece. But editors should realize that if there is even a chance that such a sign is necessary, it's probably best to spike the whole idea. Otherwise, you might end up fooling a lot of people, maybe even a Nobel Prize winner.
(Tobin Harshaw writes editorials for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter.)