The National Republican Senatorial Committee launched a petition last week to protest what it described as the "latest anti-religion pursuit" by the Obama administration, but it looks like the group is already abandoning its crusade. A webpage that took aim at President Obama for his "plans to close the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican" is nowhere to be found on the NRSC's website. The original URL (http://yourvoice.nrsc.org/landing/vatican-embassy/) now directs back to the NRSC's homepage.
President Obama has been the target of some bizarre partisan attacks over the years, but last week offered an unusually ridiculous line of criticism. The incident does, however, offer an interesting case study of the lifespan of a smear so inane, it couldn't even sustain itself for more than a day.
On Tuesday, some conservative media outlets pounced on news that the United States is going to move its embassy to the Holy See to a new location. As a substantive matter, the details aren't especially interesting: the embassy is moving closer to the Vatican, as part of a relocation that will save taxpayer money and improve security. Other countries have done the same thing, and the church doesn't care.
But Republicans, perhaps bored the day before Thanksgiving, threw a tantrum anyway. It wasn't long before GOP members of Congress, Fox News, and even Jeb Bush were expressing their outrage over Obama "closing" the embassy to the Vatican (even though Obama wasn't closing the embassy to the Vatican). The National Republican Senatorial Committee even launched a petition drive to protest the move, calling it "the latest anti-religion pursuit" of the Obama administration and a decision that "weakens America's position as a global leader."
And then all of a sudden, poof, the apoplexy disappeared.
When Tom Kludt asked about the NRSC's quiet shift in posture, Republican officials declined comment.
Behold, an anti-Obama smear so silly, even the NRSC's Brad Dayspring and his team couldn't muster the will to defend it.
I can't say I blame them. The change in embassy locations was begun under Bush/Cheney; it will save Americans $1.4 million; it improves embassy security (which, post Benghazi, Republicans are supposed to care about); it actually expands the physical size of the embassy without shrinking its staff; and it moves our diplomatic post closer to the Vatican, with the church's blessing. If the NRSC was prepared to defend its blisteringly stupid position that this move is an "anti-religion pursuit," it would require a level of spin even Republicans aren't capable of.
I'm curious, though, about some modicum of accountability. Shouldn't the NRSC offer some kind of explanation for having pushed a story too absurd to defend? Or consider, Jeb Bush, ostensibly one of his party's less-ridiculous voices, who suggested President Obama might be "closing" the embassy as "retribution" for the Vatican's "opposition" to the Affordable Care Act. Now that he's presumably learned the truth, doesn't he owe the president an apology?