Ferret in the Dishwasher: Mitt Romney Non-Insult of the Tea Party

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 22: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee member Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) questions witnesses during a hearing on Capitol Hill October 22, 2009 in Washington, DC. Many Republicans, including Bennett, have been critical of the Obama Administration’s use of ‘czars’ and the balance of power between the presidentially-appointed advisors and Congressional authority over those positions. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

My boss David Plotz interviewed Time’s Michael Grunwald earlier this month about his book The New New Deal, a deeply reported history of the stimulus. Today, Grunwald’s mothership magazine runs an excerpt from the book that gets into the GOP base’s rejection of the program, and of Republicans who voted for TARP. The star is Sen. Bob Bennett, who lost at the 2010 nominating convention even after getting Mitt Romney to campaign for him.

Bennett says his friend Romney commiserated with him about the Tea Party’s ingratitude, telling a presumably apocryphal story about getting bitten by a ferret he had tried to rescue from a dishwasher. “Mitt said the Tea Party people are like that ferret in the dishwasher,” he says. “They’re so frightened and angry, they’ll even bite Bob Bennett, who’s trying to get the country out of this mess.”

I guess you could read that as (all caps warning) ROMNEY INSULTS TEA PARTY, COMPARES IT TO ANGRY ANIMAL. And it’s awfully telling that a “spat” story is getting more traction than any of the interesting investment/science-related reporting from the book. But Bennett has been a ready source of angry anti-Tea Party quotes. He’s not delivering one here. Romney’s saying that the Tea Party represents the voter who has been thrown into a destructive and confusing situation, and might be so panicked that he’ll lash out at anyone. There are ways to say “these people are crazy and dangerous.” This isn’t really one of them. Given how little Romney tried to pander to Tea Party anger, it’s pretty sympathetic.