Rice’s personality—or “temperament,” in the parlance of her Beltway critics—is increasingly front and center. She is frequently described in the press with such adjectives as “brusque,” “aggressive,” and “undiplomatic in the extreme.”

It is highly unusual for someone who hasn’t even been nominated to be targeted in such wounding terms by enemies and detractors. But personality quirks can loom large in the process, says the Senate’s official historian, Donald Ritchie. Presidential nominations have foundered on smaller factors than Rice’s alleged foibles…

“This town is kind of crazy,” says a White House aide. “There is something going on in which these stories are feeding one another and sensing blood in the water and piling on, one after the other.”…

“It has been vicious,” says a Rice loyalist who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There is a strain of sexism in the attacks. She is being described as ‘screeching,’ not simply ‘blunt.’ They never talked that way about Richard Holbrooke.”