A good deal has been written about how Mitt Romney's answers on Libya at last night's presidential debate illustrated the degree to which his foreign policy is influenced by the closed conservative media feedback loop. But there was another moment from Romney last night on gun violence prevention that might indicate the degree to which the fringe right influences the Republican candidate's campaign rhetoric.
In the middle of his answer to a question about limiting "the availability of assault weapons," Romney launched into a discourse on Operation Fast and Furious, the failed gun trafficking sting. Romney called it the "greatest failure we've had with regards to gun violence" and intimated that no one knows why it was initiated: "For what purpose it was put in place, I can't imagine. ... I'd like to understand who it was that did this, what the idea was behind it, why it led to the violence, thousands of guns going to Mexican drug lords."
What made this so odd was that there isn't any uncertainty as to what the idea behind Fast and Furious was. The operation was intended to identify and dismantle the cross-border gun-trafficking rings that operate within the United States and Mexico, and both the Justice Department's inspector general and House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) have released reports affirming that fact.
However, when viewed through the lens of the paranoid right, bringing up Fast and Furious and its allegedly unclear purpose in response to a question on gun control starts to make more sense. The operating theory for many in the conservative media is that Fast and Furious was designed to fail and to cause gun deaths in Mexico so that the administration would have a reason to restrict gun rights at home. There is absolutely zero evidence to support that claim, but it is the going theory on the right.
Fox News has floated this idea repeatedly, its news reporters couching it in the "some say" formulation and its contributors saying it outright. "This operation was set up as an assault on the Second Amendment," speculated Monica Crowley. "In other words, flood the zone with guns, actually have some dead bodies -- I don't think they intended American dead bodies -- but then trace the guns back to the United States as an excuse to crack down on legal gun ownership."
The National Rifle Association is big into this conspiracy theory as well. NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said in June that Fast and Furious "was about putting these guns down there in Mexico and then why they found them at crime scenes going, 'Aha, we need more gun laws in the United States.'"
Romney's remarks last night jibe closely with this idea that there was this ulterior, undisclosed motive to Fast and Furious. It's not true, and the cranks on the right who promote it seem pretty excited that he brought it up.