Frank Rich on the National Circus: Hookers, Guns, and Stay-at-Home Moms

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Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

Cartegena: Any chance of Secret Service misdeeds reflecting poorly on Obama?
Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post has floated the notion that this fiasco, on top of the scandalous (if so far disappointingly PG-rated) doings of GSA bureaucrats in Vegas, could be used by Republicans to impugn Obama’s “competence” as chief executive. Romney has already called for wholesale firings at the Secret Service, his go-to solution for “fixing” distressed companies when at Bain. But of more concern are the brutal facts of the case: eleven agents charged with protecting the president (plus another ten military personnel) were in dereliction of duty. A lot of people want to kill this president. Should we be worried that he is not being properly protected? I found it somewhat alarming that Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent (and the brother of a current agent) now running as a GOP senatorial candidate in Maryland, gave an interview to NBC where he gratuitously asserted that the Secret Service must give a Democratic president the same protection as a Republican president. Why was he stating the obvious unless he saw a problem at the agency? On the brighter side, at least Dominique Strauss-Kahn has yet to make a cameo in this story.

Speaking of the Secret Service, it is now going to meet with the hard-right, gun-toting rocker Ted Nugent, who has declared that "if Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” Nugent endorsed Romney. Is that a problem?
It is if we have another horrific incident like the Gabby Giffords shooting; Sarah Palin never recovered from the proximity of that bloodbath to her trigger-happy call for Republicans to “reload” to take out Democrats. Romney should be embarrassed that he sought this endorsement in the first place. Nugent is a known nut, hasn’t had a hit record in decades, and brings nothing to the campaign except talk of violence against the president and other Democrats — a staple of his shtick long before this incident. Incredibly enough, Romney actually called Nugent to win his support. Romney surely has never heard any of Nugent’s music. Maybe he thought he was the author of a song we know he likes, “Who Let the Dogs Out.” Nugent did have a seventies hit titled “Dog Eat Dog.” It contained the lyric “You best pay up if you want some more/ 'Cause if you don’t, you’ll be shot.” 

Romney hasn’t personally responded to Nugent’s threats, even after they rose to the level of Secret Service concern. Should he?
Too late now. All his campaign could muster was an anodyne statement pooh-poohing “divisive language” without mentioning Nugent’s name. It’s a repeat of his similarly cowardly response to Rush Limbaugh’s assault on Sandra Fluke, where he also condemned the language, not the violence of the message — as if this were all just an issue of vocabulary. If Romney can’t criticize Nugent and Limbaugh, who does he have the guts to stand up to?

But couldn’t it be argued that the Obama camp overreacted to Hilary Rosen’s comment that Ann Romney “has actually never worked a day in her life”?
Absolutely. Rosen has no official standing in the campaign and is not known to 99.9 percent of the American public. But everyone from Axelrod to the president and First Lady piled on to make her into a celebrity, at least for fifteen minutes, and keep the story alive for much of a week.

Does the Rosen incident inflict political damage on the Democrats’ narrative that there is a Republican War on Women?
It might were it not for the propensity of the GOP to keep opening up new battles in that war. This week Senate Republicans have been standing strong against renewing the Violence Against Women Act. The Obama campaign is unlikely to let voters forget that Romney has endorsed every right-wing assault on a woman’s access to health care — supporting the so-called Blunt Amendment and calling for an end both to Planned Parenthood and Title X funding. Collectively, his positions would eliminate not just birth control medications but mammograms, pap smears, and HIV screening for millions of American women who couldn’t otherwise afford them. Rosen is a tiny sideshow.

We've seen a glut of polls this week, most of them showing Obama and Romney in more or less of a dead heat. Is Romney experiencing something of a post-competitive-primaries bounce? Or are we looking at a neck-and-neck race the rest of the way?
Way too early to tell anything. The numbers most worth watching are the economic indicators, which are also unpredictable. What’s clear about the primary process is that Romney’s Republican primary adversaries did him a lot of damage. This week the Washington Post-ABC News poll found him with a 32 percent favorability rating — the lowest for any major-party nominee as far back as that poll has that data (1984). In the new Times-CBS News survey, Romney’s favorability number was even lower — 29 percent — even though it finds the horse race a dead heat.  

Ann Romney has now said the iconic family dog Seamus “loved” being on the roof. That settle the issue for you?
Ann Romney should really retire the word “loved” from her vocabulary. She also helped end the Hilary Rosen flap by being overheard telling well-heeled Palm Beach donors that she “loved” Rosen’s insult so much (for its political uses) that she regarded it as an “early birthday present.” But to answer the question: Only Gail Collins can settle the dog-on-the-roof issue.

At Coachella last weekend, Snoop Dogg rapped onstage with a hologram of Tupac Shakur. Snoop and Dre announced a Tupac tour was in the works. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney could stump around the country with a hologram, who should each pick, and why?
They don’t need to resort to holograms. Obama can stump with Al Green, and Romney with Pat Boone.