Great things can grow out of stupid stories. Fehrnstrom jacked into an emerging, jokey conservative meme. It even had a hashtag: #ObamaDogReceipes. “John McCain’s presidential campaign wouldn’t have touched this anecdote with a ten-foot pole,” wrote the National Review’s Jim Geraghty. “Between this and the Romney camp’s rapid response to the Rosen comments, we are seeing a Republican presidential campaign that is exponentially faster on its feet and way more nimble than the previous general-election campaign against Obama.”

That was the point. Republican voters, the choosey people who made Romney survive three months of primaries, believe that Barack Obama won too easily in 2008. The media and the McCain campaign failed to “vet” him. I heard iterations of the theory when South Carolina Republicans blew their kingmaker record and chose Newt Gingrich over Romney. Gingrich, they told me, would “eviscerate” and “lacerate” Obama. McCain? Poor guy had his chance, and he wimped out.

The theory is sound. It’s been documented that McCain warned staff and ad-makers off of certain topics, like Barack Obama’s membership (now expired) in Jeremiah Wright’s church. Days before the 2008 election, the McCain campaign dispatched spokesman Michael Goldfarb to CNN, where he kept implying that Obama palled around with anti-Semites—nearly flouting the Wright rule. Then-host Rick Sanchez kept needling Goldfarb, encouraging him to say it. When Goldfarb wrapped and headed back to his office, he was greeted by whooping, cheering staffers. “Everybody was psyched about it,” says Goldfarb. “Everybody in the campaign wanted to go there. But McCain was the boss.”