WASHINGTON — For the past year, we've been relentlessly reminded that Republicans didn't especially love their front-running presidential candidate.
Mitt Romney wasn't conservative enough, they said. He flip-flopped. He couldn't connect with everyday Americans. He was too squeaky clean. He's a "conehead," according to one commentator.
After months of such pitiless refrains, these tropes morphed into the conventional wisdom: Romney couldn't beat Barack Obama. It was hard to imagine what it must have been like to be Romney, scorned and maligned by his own tribe. Nevertheless, he persisted as though he were skipping down a rose-strewn path rather than hacking his way through the bramble bush.
Even now, with his nomination virtually assured, Republicans are said to be falling in line behind the former Massachusetts governor because, well, what choice do they have, really? He may not be the best, goes the shrug, but he's the best they've got.
Now it appears Obama is getting a taste of Romney's stew. Democrats seem to be inching away from their man, undermining and diminishing the president with a thousand tiny cuts. Not even his strongest, alleged ally, Bill Clinton, can stay on message. Of course, Clinton has never really been Obama's friend, despite his assertions to the contrary.
Does Clinton think Obama has been a good president? Of course not. He thinks he was a good president and that his wife would have been better than Obama. In 2008, when Clinton infamously dismissed Obama's imminent primary victory in South Carolina by noting that even Jesse Jackson had won there, he was showing his true colors. Translation: Obama won because he was black, not because he was the best candidate.
Clinton's intended point that African-Americans vaulted Obama over the bar wasn't false. African-Americans constituted more than half of all South Carolina primary voters and 78 percent of them voted for Obama. Even so, the observation could have been left unsaid.
Recently, Clinton has expressed similarly true observations that he might have kept to himself. If, that is, he were truly interested in helping Obama get re-elected. In one television interview, Clinton praised Romney's "sterling" business record, the same one Obama has been criticizing. In another, he said the Bush tax cuts may as well be extended since it isn't likely that a large debt-reduction plan will be considered until after the election. This wasn't exactly an endorsement of the tax cuts, but it wasn't precisely on the same page as the president either.
In what is becoming a trend, the Obama campaign moved swiftly to explain and contain. In a cruel twist, the narrative has emerged that Ol' Bill may be getting just a bit dotty. A Politico story quoted Clinton "associates" who asserted that the former president, while mentally sharp, is, you know, well, getting older.
"He's 65 years old," said an unnamed adviser, as though that explains everything. Sixty-five is hardly teetering on the brink of senility, though people of a certain age do have a charming, devil-may-care way of saying what they really think and letting the chips fall.
Dominoes, anyone? The chips, indeed, are beginning to fall. They fell in Wisconsin, where Democrats failed to unseat Gov. Scott Walker in the recall election. Not incidentally, Obama was MIA in the run-up to the election. Might he have sensed that things would not go well for Democrats and thus decided to step out of the frame? When the going gets tough, the survivors vamoose.
All of which is to say, Obama had a bad couple of weeks. Job numbers are still lousy and the Supreme Court may soon drop a Daisy Cutter on the president's signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
But the fact that Obama's surrogates can't stick to the script may be the best barometer of his perilous incumbency. In the political jungle, where people tend to be more Darwinian than divine, he is wounded and the pack is beginning to turn. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who could be a hockey mom if he wore lipstick, recently told ABC's Charlie Rose in so many words that Hillary Clinton would have been a better president.
Yes, that is blood you smell.
Romney was nearly destroyed by his own team because he was perceived as weak, a likely loser. Beware, Mr. President. The dogs of war have been let loose, and they're not all on the other side.
Kathleen Parker's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.