Yesterday was a truly ugly day on the campaign trail. Former Bush 41 Chief of Staff John Sununu told reporters on the campaign trail that President Obama had to learn to be an American—suggesting of course that he is not an American yet. (Killing bin Laden evidently being yet another of those jobs Americans won't do.)
Sununu is a notoriously poorly spoken spokesperson however. One might have hoped that the line was an aberration. Sununu later offered clarification that the president merely failed to understand the American system of job creation.
But as you look at the day's timeline, the Sununu remark looks less accidental. Variants of the comment were offered by other Romney spokespersons and were restated in most virulent form by Rush Limbaugh.
This may be more than just an angry reaction to the Bain barrage.
Taegan Goddard this morning links to a new Washington Post/ABC poll showing that even now there remains a big enthusiasm gap on the conservative side.
While 51% of liberal Democrats feel strongly favorably toward Obama's campaign, just 31% of conservative Republicans feel the same about Romney's bid.
It's probably hopeless by now to try to excite the GOP's conservative base about Romney, not only because of ideology, but even more because of sociology. Romney's life, career, and manner all combine to remind the white working class why their parents and grandparents voted Democratic.
But what can be done is to rev up fear and dislike of the president. Which is what is happening.
Last month's pundit wisdom was that it was President Obama who had no choice but to go negative: Like George W. Bush in 2004, Obama has a weak re-elect narrative, and must therefore define his opponent as unacceptable.
But his opponent has exactly the same problem!
Which is why the race is heading straight to the mud … and why an election that partisans describe (as they always do) as the "most important of our lifetimes" is being conducted as mindlessly as if it were the least important.