This has been a week in which someone at the Republican National Committee must have said, "Send in the clowns!" Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh and lesser jesters in the GOP circus were just a few fake noses and a seltzer bottle short of performances worthy of Ringling Bros.
Bachmann was the premier buffoon. The Minnesota congresswoman alleged that a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Huma Abedin, may be a spy for the Muslim Brotherhood. Savvy readers will recall that Abedin is the wife of ex-New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, the twit who got caught tweeting photos of his nether regions. Abedin may have shown bad judgment in choosing a mate, but there is no evidence she is a radical Islamist.
On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain rose to Abedin's defense on the floor of the Senate, not naming Bachmann, but clearly aiming fire in her direction. "When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it," McCain said.
Bachmann’s former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, was just as scathing. "Having worked for Congressman Bachmann's campaign for president," he said, "I am fully aware that she sometimes has difficulty with her facts, but this is downright vicious and reaches the late Senator Joe McCarthy level."
Bachmann is unrepentant, as usual. Her information on Abedin came from a couple of right-wing, anti-Islamist conspiracy mongers. One is Frank Gaffney, a columnist for the conservative Washington Times; the other is retired Gen. William Boykin, who, in 2003, famously said the war on terror is a spiritual battle between Muslims and "Christian America."
Boykin and Gaffney have advanced another fanciful story that Bachmann has taken up as her own. They contend that the Obama administration somehow engineered the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate in the recent Egyptian presidential election. Visiting Egypt this week, Clinton’s motorcade was assaulted by an angry crowd throwing tomatoes and shoes. The Internet-savvy mob had picked up on the wild speculation of Bachmann, Gaffney and Boykin.
When pressed by American reporters about the questionable source of their information, the protesters refused to believe that a former general, a member of Congress and a pundit would just dream this stuff up. They do not understand that it happens every day in the "land of the free." Heck, on Tuesday, Limbaugh said godless liberals had something to do with the fact that the evil villain in the new Batman movie is named Bane -- you know, like Mitt Romney’s company, Bain Capital -- even though the Bane character was invented by a comic book artist 20 years ago.
American conservatism has come to be dominated by conspiracy-crazed clowns. This presents a problem for members of the Romney team as they schedule speakers for the upcoming Republican National Convention. How can they keep from giving a few of these cranks a speaking role? Bachmann, after all, was a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination at one point. Another firebrand who adopts the conspiratorial tone with regularity is Sarah Palin. She holds no office and was not a candidate this year, but she is hugely popular in the party. Can she be denied a prime-time rant?
The quandary Romney faces and has faced throughout the campaign is that the conspiracy clowns include not just a few members of Congress and a bunch of conservative pundits and celebrities. Their ranks extend to all the folks who believe the same crazy stuff as Bachmann -- a broad segment of voters that just happens to be the base of the party Romney is trying to lead.