If I were conspiracy-minded, I'd suspect Barack Obama has deployed several moles to sabotage his opponent. Take John Sununu, who yesterday attacked the president for having used drugs, spent time abroad and lived in Chicago. Or Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who now claims to have proof Obama's birth certificate is a fraud. Mitt Romney's aides are vowing to expose Obama's past, insisting he wasn't "vetted" the last time around. If I were David Axelrod, I'd be smiling.
Why? Because we've heard it all before. It didn't keep Americans from electing Obama in 2008 and it won't stop them this time. These claims do resonate with some voters -- but only those who wouldn't vote for Obama if he were running against Vladimir Putin.
Most Americans just won't buy it. The president's personal approval ratings have consistently held up even amid our economic mess. A recent poll found that by a more than 2-to-1 margin, they find him more likable than Romney. Americans know Obama well by now, and they aren't going to change their minds about him as a person in the absence of powerful new information, which Republicans don't seem to have.
Smearing him doesn't raise doubts about the president. It raises doubts about the Republican party, which runs the risk of sounding like an arm of Fox News. If the GOP can explain how Obama's particular characteristics are responsible for the poor state of the economy, non-Republicans will listen. But if it focuses on trying to demonize him, they'll tune out.
The debate on the economy is one Republicans can win. But right now, they're debating whether Obama is a sleazy pol, a drug-using punk or a Kenyan. And that's a debate Democrats will be more than happy to have.